– The worst flooding in Venice in more than 50 years prompted calls Wednesday to better protect the historic city from rising sea levels as officials calculated hundreds of millions of euros in damage.

The water reached 6.14 feet above sea level Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and just 2½ inches lower than the historic 1966 flood. Another wave of exceptionally high water followed Wednesday.

"Venice is on its knees," Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter. "St. Mark's Basilica has sustained serious damage, like the entire city and its islands."

One death was blamed on the flooding, on the barrier island of Pellestrina. A man in his 70s was apparently electrocuted when he tried to start a pump in his dwelling, said Danny Carrella, an official on the island of 3,500 inhabitants.

In Venice, the crypt beneath St. Mark's Basilica was inundated for only the second time in its history. Damage was also reported at the Ca' Pesaro modern art gallery, where a short circuit set off a fire, and at La Fenice theater, where authorities turned off electricity as a precaution after the control room was flooded.

Italy's culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said that no damage had been reported to Venice's significant art collections in museums throughout the city. Many sites remained closed to tourists, and La Fenice canceled concerts Wednesday and Thursday.

Tourists floated suitcases through St. Mark's Square, where officials removed walkways to prevent them from floating away. The water was so high that nothing less than thigh-high boots afforded protection. Water poured through wooden boards that shop and hotel owners have placed in front of doors during previous floods to hold back water. Tourists on the ground floor of hotels were forced to move to upper floors overnight. One man was filmed swimming bare-chested in St. Mark's Square at what appeared to be the height of the flood.

"I have often seen St. Mark's Square covered with water," said Venice's patriarch, Mon­signor Francesco Moraglia. "Yesterday there were waves that seemed to be the seashore."

The flooding was caused by southerly winds that pushed a high tide, exacerbated by a full moon, into the historic city. At the same time, rising sea levels because of climate change coupled with the city's well-documented sinkingmake the city built amid a system of canals even more vulnerable. Sea level in Venice is 4 inches higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city's tide office.

Brugnaro blamed climate change for the "dramatic situation" and called for a speedy completion of a long-delayed project to construct offshore barriers.

Called "Moses," the movable undersea barriers are meant to limit flooding. But the project, which has been opposed by environmentalists concerned about damaging the delicate lagoon ecosystem, has been delayed by cost overruns and corruption scandals, with no launch date in sight.