Floods in Europe Near Peak as Merkel Tours Disaster AreasJames M. Gomez and Stefan Nicola
Floodwaters that inundated Prague and swamped large areas of central Europe may peak today as emergency crews work to open river traffic, drain submerged neighborhoods and count the cost of the storm damage.
Chancellor Angela Merkel began a tour of flooded regions in Germany as forecasters struggled to predict exactly when rivers including the Elbe, Danube and Rhine will crest. States of emergency in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria remain in force after firefighters, soldiers and volunteers widened evacuation zones and tried to stem flooding that spread even as rain abated. Nine people were confirmed dead and six are missing in the Czech Republic and Austria. Local media reported three deaths in Germany.
“This is not just a once-in-a-hundred years event, it’s one you have to call exorbitant,” Merkel told reporters in the southern German town of Passau, where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers converge. “We want to help. Even as the water marks slowly recede, the damage will continue to have an effect for a long time.”
The federal government will make 100 million euros ($131 million) available in immediate funds to aid the clean-up effort, she said.
Authorities are battling to limit the damage from flooding that is the worst on record in some parts of Germany and recalls the devastation in 2002 that put whole regions of Bohemia, Germany and Austria under water.
Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, said it will take “several weeks” to determine the losses resulting from the floods. The company put the losses from the Elbe overflowing in August 2002 at 16.8 billion euros across Europe, 3.5 billion euros of which was insured. So far, the losses from the current floods aren’t as extensive as 11 years ago, it said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Allianz SE, Europe’s biggest insurer, said it’s deploying staff from across Germany to the flooded areas to assess the damage and support clients. The insurer has received “several thousand” notifications of damage to buildings, homes and cars, it said in an e-mailed statement today.
“Even though the floods are comparable with the situation in 2002 or even worse, the areas affected aren’t big economic centres,” said Thilo Heidrich, an economist at Deutsche Postbank AG in Bonn. “While it’s thoroughly possible that the floods will have an effect on output in the second quarter, I wouldn’t expect that impact to be large.”
The flood damage in the Czech Republic may total as much as 35 billion koruna ($1.78 billion), according to Martin Lobotka, an economist at Ceska Sporitelna AS in Prague. Repairs may add 0.6 percent to 0.7 percent to nominal gross domestic product in the second half of the year, he wrote in a report to clients yesterday.
Rains in Bohemia, the Czech region that borders Germany and Austria, have begun to ease and will end by midweek, Petr Dvorak, a spokesman for the Czech weather service, said.
Meanwhile, Hungary has deployed 400 soldiers as it stepped up flood defense along the Danube, state news service MTI cited army chief Tibor Benko as saying. Authorities expect water marks to reach record levels on June 9, MTI said. Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a state of emergency effective from noon today.
The Czech capital was among the hardest-hit cities from non-stop spring rains. The Vltava, which bisects Prague, crested earlier today after flooding about four percent of the city.
The 650 year-old Charles Bridge straddling the Vltava, parts of the subway and embankments in the Kampa or Smichov areas remained closed.
“The situation in Prague has stabilized and the worst is behind us,” acting mayor Tomas Hudecek said in a statement broadcast by state news channel CT24. “Right now, we are dealing with the complicated transport situation and putting together clean-up plans.” The subway will remain closed “for at least a day,” he said.
With all dams on the river at capacity, it will be some time before waters recede, the Vltava river basin management said.
Czech authorities evacuated about 8,000 people and reported seven deaths and four people missing in the floods.
As many as 4,000 German soldiers are working in the flood areas, the defense ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The troops are reinforcing dams, giving medical aid and helping with evacuations, it said.
The center of Passau was partially submerged, with shops and homes near riverside areas evacuated. Power supplies were cut off in some parts as a precaution, said Siegfried Ratzinger, a spokesman for the city’s crisis center.
“We also have problems with the quality of the drinking water due to the floods,” he said.
In the city of Dresden, which still bears the scars of the 2002 floods that damaged buildings including the 19th century Semper Opera, several schools sent students home and old people’s homes were evacuated as authorities prepared for the River Elbe to approach record-high levels.
“We expect the water level in Dresden to rise by 1.50 meters (4.9 feet) in the next days, possibly to 9 meters,” Frank Meyer, a spokesman for Saxony’s environment ministry, said by phone.
Helma Orosz, Dresden’s mayor, said yesterday that the situation evoked memories of the deluge 11 years ago, when the Elbe rose to 9.4 meters in the city.
The Elbe had risen to 7.37 meters in Dresden as of 9 a.m., according to the most recent data by German water authorities. The region may see thunderstorms and heavy rains today, according to the state government’s most recent flood forecast.
While Dresden’s historic city center including the Frauenkirche cathedral will be safe because of protection installed after the 2002 floods, city districts including Gohlis and Laubegast that are located further downstream still lack such protection, Meyer said. The Diakonissenkrankenhaus Dresden, a hospital sitting on the northern banks of the Elbe, may have to be evacuated, he said. A decision will have to be made in the course of the day, he said.
Water levels are “slowly dropping” in cities including Doebeln and Grimma that had been submerged by the Mulde tributaries, Meyer said. “Clean-up work can slowly start there.”
The weather in most of Germany is “calm,” the national weather service said on its website today. Southeastern and eastern parts are still affected by an upper low-pressure area that’s “weakening,” it said. Eastern Germany is experiencing isolated thunderstorms or heavy rains of more than 15 liters (4 gallons) per square meter in some cases, it said.
A construction worker was found dead three days after he slipped into the water, trying to secure a building site against the floods near the city of Reutlingen in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. Two more bodies were found in the town of Guenzburg in the Swabian region, according to the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
Elsewhere in Germany, river traffic on the Rhine upstream from Koblenz remained closed, affecting commodities transport including oil.
Merkel’s tour echoes steps by her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, whose visits to the 2002 flood-affected regions are credited by pollsters with helping him win a second term in federal elections weeks later.
The visit to disaster areas by Merkel, who’s running for re-election in less than four months, is to “raise the spirits of those who are working to the point of exhaustion,” Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said yesterday. “There are no other considerations.”
In Austria, two people were found dead and two others were reported missing after landslides. In the eastern part of the country, levels of the Danube are expected to reach their peak today. With several city centers under water, about 1,000 people have left their homes in the provinces of Upper Austria and Lower Austria, a government official said.
The situation in western parts of the country eased yesterday. In Salzburg, levels are declining on all rivers, Stefan Mayer, a spokesman for the province, said by telephone. The damage will “surely exceed that caused by the flood of 2002,” he said.
The highway connecting capital Vienna to the airport and onwards to Budapest experienced flooding and traffic had to be diverted locally. Firefighters expect Vienna’s Port Albern on the Danube to be partially flooded.
Eleven years ago, floods caused total damages of about 3 billion euros in the country, according to the Austrian Insurance Association.
While Austria’s most important railroad connections and highways are accessible, traffic on the Danube remains suspended. The government said it will provide aid to those affected.
“We have to help, even if that puts us in a budgetary situation we can’t yet assess,” Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger told journalists yesterday.
Inhabited areas of Vienna are expected to be spared because of the discharge flume the city built for the Danube in the 1970s.