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Tags: europe | weather | floods | danube | elbe

Germany Steps up Evacuations Along Flooded Rivers

Germany Steps up Evacuations Along Flooded Rivers
Two firefighters sit on sandbags in floodwaters as the swollen Elbe river churns behind on June 9 in Magdeburg, Germany.

Sunday, 09 June 2013 11:18 AM EDT

BERLIN — German authorities urged 15,000 people to evacuate part of a city on the swollen Elbe river Sunday as central Europe faced its worst floods in a decade that have caused havoc in the Czech Republic and Austria and are threatening Hungary.

A torrent of flood waters in Germany has turned vast areas into a brown water world, sparked a mass mobilization of troops, firefighters and volunteers and caused billions of euros in property damage in what one lawmaker termed a "national catastrophe."

In the city of Magdeburg, authorities urged residents to clear out of the eastern bank of the river, where an almost 24-foot peak was expected to strain saturated dikes for the next few days.

"We hope that the dikes will withstand the pressure over the coming days, but we can't be 100 percent sure," said fire brigade spokesman Andreas Hamann, one of 1,200 emergency staff working around the clock in the area.

The move was described as a precaution, but a city spokesman said "people really are supposed to leave" in face of the danger.

Across central Europe, the floods have killed at least 18 people, including 10 in the Czech Republic.

The 15,000 who were told to flee raised the total number of evacuations this weekend in and around Magdeburg to 23,500, said the crisis center of the interior ministry of Saxony-Anhalt state.

Vast areas around 1,200-year-old Magdeburg were covered in a sea of muddy water sparked by torrential rains which have washed down the Elbe river system from the Czech Republic, where many villages were left flooded and isolated last week.

The water level in Magdeburg was higher than during "once-a-century" floods of 2002, local authorities said.

Regional rains have also severely swollen the Danube, hitting southern Germany, where residents in Passau have in past days returned to wrecked homes to clear out mud-caked furniture and debris.

The deluge has sparked massive emergency responses downriver in Austria, Slovakia and in Hungary, where flood defenses held firm Sunday as waters reached a new record in Budapest.

The mayor sought to ease concerns, saying water levels were stabilizing, although about 1,200 people have been evacuated along the river.

"Budapest is not at risk of a catastrophe, the level is not expected to rise significantly," Mayor Istvan Tarlos said, adding that city authorities had been able to fix leaking dikes.

"Of course anything can happen, but we have every reason to believe that Budapest will survive its biggest flood of all time," said Imre Pesti, head of the city's defense team.

Authorities said Budapest flood barriers are high enough to protect the capital, where the river was forecast to peak at 8.95 meters later Sunday.

In Germany, President Joachim Gauck visited flood-hit areas, where in vast areas only roofs and tree tops stick out of the water and the only access is by boat or helicopter.

"One cannot imagine how much remains to be dealt with," he said.

Adding to tensions was a threat to attack dikes from a group calling itself the "Germanophic Flood Brigade." Aerial and ground surveillance had been stepped up, said Saxony Anhalt state interior minister Holger Stahlknecht.

Ironically, the sun was shining above Germany's flood zone, forcing the thousands packing sandbags and helping evacuees to seek supplies of sun block and insect repellent.

However, more rains were expected by Monday in Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria.

More townships were evacuated, including the Elbe towns of Barby, Lauenburg and Hitzacker, while relief workers kept piling up sandbags and deliberately opened some dams to flood fields and relieve the river pressure.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was planning a crisis meeting with state premiers on how to share the bill for the disaster, estimated to hit tens of billions of euros, the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper reported.

"We're dealing with a national catastrophe," Gerda Hasselfeldt, lawmaker for the conservative Christian Social Union, was quoted saying.

Despite the widespread damage, growth in Europe's biggest economy was unlikely to suffer much as a result, said a survey of leading economists by the Welt daily.

"Absurdly, economies actually pick up after natural disasters because the property damage needs to be repaired," Deutsche Bank chief strategist Thomas Mayer said.


© AFP 2022

German authorities urged 15,000 people to evacuate part of a city on the swollen Elbe river Sunday as central Europe faced its worst floods in a decade that have caused havoc in the Czech Republic and Austria and are threatening Hungary.
Sunday, 09 June 2013 11:18 AM
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