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Venice Offers Lessons on Coping with Rising Seas

As the Earth warms up, rising sea levels will increase the threat of storm surges and flooding. In some places, that will make exisiting problems worse. Venice, Italy, offers a glimpse at what may lie ahead.

For years now, Venice has topped the world's most endangered cities list. Built 1,300 years ago on mudflats in the center of a lagoon, the sinking city is subject to increasingly frequent winter flooding, from high tides known as "acqua alta" in Italian.

A major engineering project has now begun aimed at protecting the Venetian lagoon from rising sea levels, but most Venetians seem to take high water in stride.

Elevated walkways ensure dry feet, boutiques provide fashionable rubber boots, and residents are comforted by the conviction that nothing evil can come from the sea, Venice's oldest friend and protector.

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Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.