Prague Flooded as Regional Storms Kill 6, Shut Rivers

Floodwaters inundated Prague for the second time in 11 years as storms blanketing central Europe disrupted river traffic from the Rhine to the Danube, leaving at least six dead and driving thousands from their homes.

Rescue workers struggled to protect the Czech capital’s subway network, shops and apartments near the Vltava river, which breached its banks in some areas and will crest today. Germany suffered from the heaviest deluge in more than 50 years that left parts of the city of Passau under water. Vienna was bracing for more rainfall as the Danube rose to the highest level in a decade.

“It will take two or three days for all the rivers to crest, so the risk still endures,” Petr Dvorak, a spokesman for the Czech state weather service, said by phone.

Authorities are striving to cope with flooding similar to 2002, when high water in western Bohemia and Austria spread to Germany and costs insurers billions of dollars in damage claims. Rhine River traffic was closed today upstream of Koblenz, Germany, hindering the transport of oil and other commodities. About 5,000 Prague residents are without power and CEZ AS, the biggest Czech power utility, cut off supply to another 4,000 outside the city.

Rains in Bohemia, which borders Germany and Austria, will ease today and end by midweek, Dvorak said. Another 15 millimeters (two-thirds of an inch) is expected by the end of today after more than twice pounded the countryside yesterday.

Prague Crest

The Vltava will reach its highest level this afternoon as it continues to swell along with its tributaries, river authority spokeswoman Michaela Pohunkova said by phone today. There’s no forecast as to when the water may start to subside.

In the Czech Republic, an unidentified woman and a man died yesterday in Trebenice, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside Prague, when water seepage undermined the foundation of a summer cottage, causing the wooden building to collapse over them, fire brigade spokeswoman Nicole Zaoralova said.

Three others have perished, according to Zaoralova, who didn’t immediately have details of the incidents, and another four are missing. About 700 Prague residents were told to leave their homes in suburbs and in the city center, with more expected by the evening, and a downtown hospital was evacuated.

Meanwhile, Staropramen Brewery, Czech second-largest beer producer, stopped work at its Smichov site today because of floods, spokesman Pavel Barvik said by phone today.

Schools Closed

All downtown grammar schools were shuttered, as was the underground Metro system in the center. The city closed the historic Charles Bridge to foot traffic. More than 7,000 people in the Czech Republic have been evacuated, the fire brigade press service said.

Hana Spirkova, the owner of a flower shop nestled under a medieval building two streets from the Charles Bridge, recalled she had almost six feet of water in the ground level of her store in 2002.

The earlier flood “came so quickly, there was no chance to react,” she said today. “What’s incredible is that this is happening so soon after the last floods. When you call it a 100-year flood, you sort of expect it to come after 100 years, not 10 or 11.”

In Germany, states of emergency were declared, evacuations ordered and soldiers deployed in the states of Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony. Water levels for the Danube in Passau exceeded the record 12.20 meters measured in 1954, said Siegfried Ratzinger, a spokesman of the city’s crisis center.

German Evacuation

In Passau, shops and homes were evacuated and power supplies in some parts were cut off as a precaution, Ratzinger said.

Germany’s national meteorological service, Deutscher Wetterdienst, expected more heavy rainfall between Saxony in the east of the country and the Bavarian Alps in the south today.

Volkswagen AG suspended production at its plant in the town of Zwickau as a result of the flooding, with plans to resume output during the night shift later today.

Five cruise ships were stranded in Frankfurt as the surging Main River prevented their departure from Germany’s banking capital.

Rhine Flooding

The Rhine River, an important inland navigation route, rose to the highest level since at least 2006 near the town of Kaub in western Germany, according to data from the German Federal Institute of Hydrology.

On the Rhine, barges won’t be able to navigate until June 5, said Joachim Hessler, the operations manager a Maintank Schiffahrtsgesellschaft.

Viking Flusskreuzfahrten GmbH, which operates seven cruise ships on various rivers flowing through Germany, canceled one trip from Berlin to Prague via the river Elbe.

Train disruptions in southern Bavaria were also reported by Deutsche Bahn AG. Routes between Prague and Berlin to the north have two-hour delays, the company said on its website.

A fifth death from the storms was recorded in the Salzburg province of Austria, where a man died after landslides and three others are missing, a government official said. The railroad connection between Vienna and Salzburg was partially shut down after floods damaged the tracks.

‘Getting Worse’

While the situation in the western part of the country has eased since yesterday, the Danube is expected to swell in the east to the levels of the 2002 flood that caused about 3 billion euros ($4 billion) in damage. Heavy rainfall will end today and tomorrow, according to the national weather forecasting service.

“It is still getting worse,” Austrian Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger told journalists today. The flood along the Danube will probably reach its peak on Tuesday, he said.

Downriver on the Danube, Bratislava, the Slovak capital, is setting up metal barriers along the riverside promenade. Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos ordered a second-stage alert as the Danube’s water level is expected to be as high as the record set in 2002, the mayor’s office said in an e-mailed statement today.

In Prague, the lower half of the Prague Zoo, where the 2002 floods killed animals including an elephant that was trapped in a pen as water rushed in, was closed. Workers transported animals, including gorillas and tigers to higher ground.

“Everything went smoothly apart from one accident where one flamengo broke a leg,” Zoo spokesman Michal Stastny said by phone.

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