Europe struggles with worst floods in decade

June 6, 2013 4:53 pm
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Aerial view shows a flooded house near Meissen, eastern Germany, on June 5, 2013/AFP
Aerial view shows a flooded house near Meissen, eastern Germany, on June 5, 2013/AFP

, BITTERFELD, Germany June 2013- Germany pushed on with efforts to secure river dykes with sandbags Thursday, bracing for a surge of the worst floods in over a decade that have 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 red-tiled roofs sticking out of the muddy water in many abandoned villages now accessible only by boat or helicopter.

The picture of devastation 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 was expected to peak in coming days.

In northeast Germany, thousands of volunteers, many organised through social media, as well as 85,000 firefighters, aid workers and troops have filled millions of sandbags to hold back the torrent which has risen from two to above eight metres (six to above 26 feet).

Thousands 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 (dollars).

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.

Volunteers use sandbags to build a temporary dam in downtown Budapest/AFP
Volunteers use sandbags to build a temporary dam in downtown Budapest/AFP

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

“I’m staying,” said 77-year-old lakeside resident Joachim Grollmitz. “I won’t let them force me out. We still have electricity and water and can stay informed about the water level.”

But he did admit to AFP to some concern about a possible breach between the two lakes, saying that “then a big wave would come and roll over us”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was headed to the city Thursday, the second trip to a flood-hit region this week for the national leader who faces elections in September.

On a visit to Bavaria on Tuesday, Merkel promised 100 million euros ($130 million) in immediate flood relief. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday that more money would follow.

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