by Associated Press | November 15, 2019

VENICE, Italy (AP) - Exceptionally high tidal waters returned to Venice on Friday, prompting the mayor to close the iconic St. Mark's Square and call for donations to repair the Italian lagoon city just three days after it experienced its worst flooding in 50 years.

The high tide peaked at 5 feet above sea level just before noon on Friday, flooding most of the historic center.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro told reporters he was forced to ask police to block off St. Mark's Square, which was covered in knee-high water. Even as the water started to subside, workers in high boots began removing the platforms used by the public to cross the square without getting wet.

The city saw the second-worst flooding on record late Tuesday when the water level reached 73 inches above sea level, prompting the Italian government to declare a state of emergency.

On Thursday, the government also approved US$22 million in funding to help Venice repair the most urgent damage.

Venice's mayor said the damage is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars and blamed climate change for the "dramatic situation" in the historic city. He called for the speedy completion of the city's long-delayed Moses flood defense project.

He also called for donations from Italy and abroad to help repair the damage caused by the flooding.

"Venice is the pride of all of Italy," Brugnaro said in a statement Friday. "Venice is everyone's heritage, unique in the world. Thanks to your help, Venice will shine again."

The leader of the right-wing opposition League party, Matteo Salvini, visited Venice on Friday morning and also called for a common effort to complete the Moses project, which the Italian government now expects to be completed by 2021.

"We can't waste time, this city is crying for help," Salvini said, adding that similar incidents must be avoided.

Tuesday's devastating floods have reignited a years-long debate on Moses, a multibillion-dollar flood defense project that has been under construction since 2003. The project has not yet been activated, after being delayed a number of times due to corruption scandals, costs overruns and environmentalist opposition over its effects on Venice's lagoon ecosystem.