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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

Venice holds back the water for first time in 1,200 years

Venice, Italy (CNN) — Sebastian Fagarazzi is used to moving his belongings around. As a Venetian who lives on the ground floor, every time the city faces acqua alta -- the regular flooding caused by high tides -- he must raise everything off the floor, including furniture and appliances, or risk losing it.

But on October 3, with a 135-centimeter (53-inch) high tide forecast -- which would normally see around half the city under various levels of water -- when the flood sirens went off, he did nothing. "I had faith," he says.

Saturday was the first acqua alta of the season for Venice. It was also the day when, after decades of delays, controversy and corruption, the city finally trialled its long-awaited flood barriers against the tide.

A previous trial in July, overseen by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, had gone well -- but that was in good weather, at low tide. Earlier trials had not managed to raise all 78 gates in the barriers that have been installed in the Venetian lagoon.

Against all the odds, it worked.

At 12.05 p.m., high tide, St Mark's Square -- which starts flooding at just 90 centimeters, and should have been knee-deep -- was pretty much dry, with only large puddles welling up around the drains.

The square's cafes and shops, which often have to close for hours on end, remained open.

And in the northern district of Cannaregio, Sebastian Fagarazzi's home stayed dry.

"I'd heard the [warning] sirens in the morning but I didn't raise any of my furniture this time because the barrier lifted on the last test, and I had faith that it would work," Fagarazzi, co-founder of social initiative Venezia Autentica, says. "This is historic."

The defense system is called MOSE, the Italian for Moses, a name derived from the more functional Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, meaning Experimental Electromechanical Module. It consists of 78 flood barriers installed in the seabed at the lagoon's three main entrance points.

When the high tide arrives, they can rise to form a dam, stopping the Adriatic Sea surging into the lagoon and flooding the city.

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