Firefighters, soldiers and volunteers in eastern and northern Germany toiled through the night to defend against floods that have submerged towns, villages and farmlands for the second time in 11 years.
Crews in Dresden, home to the 18th century Frauenkirche that was rebuilt after German re-unification in 1990 and which narrowly escaped serious damage in the last deluge, have evacuated more than 1,300 people from low-lying areas as the Elbe River inched closer to the 9.4-meter (31 feet) high recorded in 2002. The water plateaued just below 9 meters this morning, a city official said. The normal level is 1.8 meters.
The floods, triggered by unseasonal heavy rainfall, are part of the worst in central Europe since 2002, when rising waters overwhelmed towns and cities in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Danube region. About 15,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the state of Saxony and thousands more in Saxony-Anhalt and Bavaria. Rail, road and river traffic has been disrupted by the rising waters.
“Most people here have not insured their farms and are really scared that they will lose everything they own,” said Christopher Stolzenberg, a 35-year-old public relations manager from Berlin, by phone. He traveled to the village of Hohenberg-Krusemark in Saxony-Anhalt to help pack sand bags before the Elbe crests there over the weekend.
As water levels subsided in parts of Bavaria, Austria and the Czech Republic, the full force of the deluge that has swamped central Europe since the weekend is expected to hit Dresden and other towns along the Elbe in the coming days.
Volunteers connecting on social media teamed up with emergency services as homes on the banks of the Elbe succumbed to the floods, submerging the district of Gohlis in Dresden. They joined about 85,000 emergency services personnel, soldiers and medical staff countrywide to evacuate people and build dams.
More than 4,000 people were evacuated in the Bavarian district of Deggendorf, where the Danube and Isar meet, after dams on both rivers burst, submerging the villages of Fischerdorf and Georgenhof.
“The situation is horrific,” said Paul Haslbeck, a resident of Deggendorf who, as a boy, witnessed a similar flood in the area in 1954 and again 11 years ago. “This time it is much worse than 2002.”
Haslbeck’s cousin had to flee her home in Fischerdorf as water swallowed the ground floor. The floods reached the district like a tsunami, he said.
“There was so little time that one farmer in Fischerdorf wasn’t able to take care of his 260 bulls, so some of the animals had to be shot,” he said. A car dealer in the area lost 300 new cars in the flood and suffered damage of about 6 million euros ($7.9 million), he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived this afternoon in the town of Bitterfeld, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Berlin on the Mulde River, to survey the damage after a dam burst, causing nearby lakes to spill over, according to a spokesman for the district of Anhalt-Bitterfeld.
It is the second visit to flood-stricken areas this week by the German leader, who is running for re-election in less than four months.
Officials in the city of Halle on the Saale, a tributary of the Elbe in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, advised 30,000 people to leave their homes yesterday as water levels rose to the highest in about 400 years, Drago Bock, a city spokesman, said by phone.
Five hundred ships are moored along German waterways, unable to continue their journey as the floods persist, according to a June 4 report by the Federal Transport Ministry.
“Large parts of Germany’s waterways are open and operable,” said Jens Schwanen, the head of the Deutscher Binnenschifffahrtsverband domestic shipping association. “Our industry is used to coping with high and low water. Some cargo moves to roads, some to railroads.”
Authorities in Lauenburg, a town on the Elbe 50 kilometers east of Hamburg, are expecting water levels to reach a record 9.75 meters a week from now as the crest makes its way downriver, spokesman Peter Schuett said by phone.
The federal government and KfW development bank have pledged 200 million euros in immediate aid and loans to support private individuals, small businesses and municipalities affected by the catastrophe. Germany is also in talks with European Union partners to obtain assistance from EU structural and solidarity funds, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said yesterday.
Scale of Damage
“Beyond the immediate help, we will in solidarity -- with the states -- do whatever is necessary to help overcome the long-term effects of the floods,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a speech to Parliament in Berlin today. “Everyone can rely on that. No one can assess the scale of the damage at the moment.”
Saxony started handing out emergency aid of 400 euros for every adult and 250 euros per child, whose homes have been affected by the floods, according to the finance ministry.
Water levels continued to rise in Usti nad Labem, a Czech regional capital northwest of Prague on the German border that is situated on the Elbe. Officials expect the river to crest there today at about 11 meters, close to 2002 levels.
In Hungary, where a state of emergency was declared on June 4 because of the flooding, more than 80,000 people may have to be evacuated in a worst-case scenario, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said today.
Authorities expect the Danube river to crest in Hungary on June 11. Thousands of soldiers and civilians are erecting barriers across the country to contain the flooding.