Eastern Germany Prepares for Dam Bursts as Water Levels RiseStefan Nicola and Lenka Ponikelska
As the people of Prague started to clean up after three days of flooding, residents in the eastern German cities of Dresden, Halle and Meissen were bolstering their defenses against the torrents of water still surging from the Vltava, Mulde and Saale rivers into the Elbe.
While water levels subsided in parts of Bavaria, Austria and the Czech Republic, the full force of the deluge is expected to hit eastern Germany in the coming days. Soldiers, emergency services and volunteers are battling to limit the damage from the flooding, the worst on record in some parts of the country, recalling the devastation in 2002 that put whole regions of Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary under water.
Authorities in Dresden, which still bears the scars of the floods 11 years ago that damaged buildings including the 19th century Semper Opera, have evacuated more than 1,000 people from low-lying areas and are moving several thousand more to safety as they prepare for the Elbe to approach record levels.
“We have a very tense situation all along the Elbe,” Kai Schulz, a spokesman for the city, said by phone today. “Water levels are rising and will continue to do so over the next few hours. We all hope very much that the water mark will stay below 2002 levels. First residential areas in the immediate vicinity have become islands or peninsulas.”
The Elbe had risen to 8.44 meters (28 feet) in Dresden by 12 p.m. today, according to data by German water authorities. City officials said the water mark may reach 9 meters in the course of the floods, compared with 9.4 meters at the height of the 2002 catastrophe.
While Dresden’s historic city center, including the Frauenkirche cathedral, will be safe because of protection installed after the 2002 floods, some city districts that are located further downstream still lack such protection, Frank Meyer, a spokesman for the environment ministry in the state of Saxony, said by phone yesterday.
About 5,600 German soldiers are toiling in the flood areas, according to the defense ministry. The troops are reinforcing dams, giving medical aid and helping with evacuations, it said. Contingents of Dutch and French troops are also aiding the relief effort.
State of Emergency
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who toured the affected areas yesterday, said her government will make 100 million euros ($131 million) available in immediate funds to aid the clean-up effort. Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said an additional 100 million euros will be made available through loans from the KfW development bank for companies, private individuals and municipalities to help the recovery effort.
Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff has declared a state of emergency and set up a crisis task force to coordinate efforts to stem the flooding that has claimed at least 12 lives in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Two people have been reported missing in Austria.
Water levels in Halle on the Saale, the birthplace of composer George Frideric Handel, have risen to the highest in more than 400 years, according to German news channel N-TV.
As they prepare for the worst, Haseloff and Halle’s Mayor Bernd Wiegand had to cancel the Handel Festival, the annual classical music event that was due to take place June 6-13, featuring orchestras and singers from around the world, as crews struggled to protect dams from the floods.
One dam in the city has burst, prompting authorities to order 30,000 people to leave their homes, Deutschlandradio reported this afternoon.
As many as 1,500 emergency staff and volunteers are working to protect the city with pumps and at least 140,000 sandbags.
More than 50 prisoners are aiding staff to remove 6,000 meters of files from the land register’s archive located in an 18th century castle in the town of Barby, which is on the Elbe, Saxony-Anhalt’s justice ministry said in a statement.
The Elbe reached 8.89 meters at 1:15 a.m. this morning in the city of Meissen in Saxony, famed for its porcelain, where water flowed into the city center and the local utility had to temporarily cut power supplies in some parts.
At least 10,000 people have been evacuated in the state, Patricia Vernhold, a spokeswoman for the state’s interior ministry, said by phone.
The Deutsche Wetterdienst expects weather to improve and rainfall to subside in most parts of the country in coming days. The sun was expected to shine for 13 hours today in Dresden with no rainfall, according to online forecaster wetter.de.
The Vltava river, which winds through Prague, crested yesterday and the water level has begun to subside there after flooding as much as 4 percent of the city. The situation in the city has “stabilized” and officials are preparing plans to start the clean-up, acting mayor Tomas Hudecek said. Rescue workers have begun pumping water out of areas where it had soaked through barriers.
Anti-flood barriers measuring 17 kilometers remained in place to protect the city from the swollen river, authorities said. The public transport company reopened some subway stations but most of the city center’s metro system remained shut.
More than 19,000 people were evacuated around the Czech Republic because of floods, most of them in the northern part of the country where the river Elbe is expected to crest today. The Elbe and the Vltava meet about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Prague.
Officials in Hungary evacuated as many as 600 hotel guests from the Margitsziget island in Budapest as the Danube surged, Inforadio reported.