Saturday 8 June 2013

Germans band together to fight floods

DRESDEN - Germany pushed on with frantic efforts to secure saturated river dykes with sandbags, bracing itself for a surge of the worst floods in more than a decade that have already claimed 12 lives and forced mass evacuations across central Europe.

Vast stretches along the Elbe river basin have turned into a sea of brown water in the Czech Republic and downstream in eastern Germany, with only red-tiled roofs sticking out of the muddy water in many abandoned villages and towns.

The picture of devastation yesterday was similar along the mighty Danube, which has jumped its banks in Germany's southern Bavaria state and Austria and sparked large-scale disaster preparations in Hungary, where the water is expected to peak in the coming days.

In north-east Germany, thousands of volunteers, many organised through social media, firefighters, aid workers and troops have filled millions of sandbags to hold back the torrent which has risen from 2m to above 8m.

Thousands worked through the night or kept a nervous watch on flood barriers while recalling dark memories of the 2002 floods that killed scores across central Europe and caused a clean-up bill running to billions of euros.

Fears were centred on Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt state where two lakes, one higher than the other, loom dangerously close to a city that during the communist East Germany era became notorious as a heavily polluted industrial centre.

Officials warned that a breach in the lake defences could spark a "mini tsunami" that could engulf the city, and officials have twice attempted to blow holes in the lake dyke away from the city, with limited success.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised Euro 100 million (S$164 million) in immediate flood relief across Germany.

Volkswagen's Porsche halted production at its assembly plant in Leipzig, where the Cayenne sport utility vehicle is built, because the floods are preventing freight trains from delivering components made in Bratislava.

Dresden, with more than two million people, said the peak of 8.75m was reached yesterday, with flood waters lapping through the mud-caked living rooms and trashed gardens of thousands of outlying homes.

Upstream in the Czech Republic - where five days of flooding have killed at least eight people and forced some 20,000 evacuations - rescue workers in rubber dinghies were supplying isolated families who lack drinking water, power or gas.

In Austria, where two people have died in the floods, the town of Korneuburg just north of Vienna reported an all-time record river level of 8.06m.

Down the Danube in Hungary, preparations moved into high gear to prepare Budapest for the wall of water coming along one of Europe's longest waterways.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that large-scale evacuations were likely because of "a real threat to human life" but has pledged that "with good cooperation, we can protect everyone".

An "anti-catastrophe team" with 10,000 volunteers and close to 12,000 police and troops was on standby, while some 300 people have been evacuated so far.



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