Floods threaten Dresden as Prague river levels fall

The BBC's Christian Fraser reports from the Czech Republic, where the waters are rising at 15cm an hour

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Cities in southern and eastern Germany are on high alert as heavy floodwaters swell rivers including the Elbe.

In Halle, an appeal has gone out to residents to help reinforce flood defences while Dresden is preparing for water levels 5m higher than normal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised 100m euros (£78m; $130m) in emergency aid for flood-hit areas.

Meanwhile, river levels in Prague have begun to fall, say the Czech authorities, as floodwaters move north.

Analysis

In the industrial city of Usti nad Labem there's nothing more to do but wait. The houses along the riverbank have already been evacuated.

New metal flood barriers were hurriedly erected on Monday. They have sandbagged the most vulnerable areas - though it's more in hope than in any real anticipation their efforts will hold back the waters.

The Elbe has been rising since Monday lunchtime and the decision to open the flood dams on the Vltava River overnight will have implications. The authorities in Usti nad Labem expect the water to rise several metres higher through the day.

This morning roads that we used to get into the city centre are now completely under water and impassable. Further downstream the village of Hrensko which sits in a valley on the River Elbe has been completely evacuated. Tens of thousands of people in the Czech Republic are now sitting it out in shelters.

On Monday the authorities were confident they had avoided a repeat of the worst flooding in 2002. Now they are not so sure. It is still raining here and the hillsides are saturated.

Overnight, flood barriers on the River Vltava in the south of the country were raised, releasing a torrent of water.

However, Prague's flood defences appear to have held, and the risk of severe flooding in the city centre seems to be receding, says the BBC's correspondent there, Rob Cameron.

Water levels rise

The city of Regensburg has declared a state of emergency, while in the state of Saxony - which includes Dresden - officials were warning of higher water levels than during the record floods of 2002.

The bodies of two people, a man and a woman, were found separately around the southern town of Guenzburg. At least seven people have died in the Czech Republic and two in Austria after days of heavy rain.

Hungary has also declared a state of emergency. Floodwaters on the Danube are expected to peak there on Thursday.

Germany has drafted in the army to help with flood defences.

In the Bavarian town of Passau, floodwaters reached a level not seen since the 16th Century, but have now begun to recede.

Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the worst affected regions on Tuesday, flying over Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia by helicopter.

She promised 100m euros in immediate aid, of which 50m euros will go to Bavaria.

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Politicians know that natural disasters before elections can become political disasters at elections ”

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In the Czech Republic, a nationwide state of emergency is still in force. Water levels are expected to peak in the north later on Tuesday.

Around 3,000 people have been forced to leave their homes across the west of the country.

As a precaution, Prague's metro system and central sewage treatment plant were closed, metal flood defences were erected and sandbags built up along the banks of the Vltava.

The Charles Bridge - normally packed with tourists - was shut and tigers at the city's zoo were tranquilised and moved out of an enclosure thought to be at risk.

A system of nine dams called the Vltava Cascade was found to be dangerously full, and the floodgates were opened at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) on Monday night.

Czech village of Stare Ouhoulice before and after flooding This image shows the impact of flooding on the Czech village of Stare Ouhoulice
Mirejovice village, north of Prague, before and after the floods Aerial view of the swollen Vltava river, which swamped the village of Mirejovice, north of Prague
German soldiers clearing up after floods in Passau, Bavaria (4 June) The German army is helping to clear up the mess left behind as floodwaters recede from Passau
Sandbags in Dresden (4 June) The city of Dresden, which was badly damaged by flooding in 2002, has reinforced its defences as water levels on the River Elbe rise
Floodwaters around Melnik, Czech Republic (4 June) The River Vltava has burst its banks in the area around Melnik, 40km (25 miles) north of Prague
Flooded village of Marbach, Austria The River Danube is also carrying floodwaters: the village of Marbach, 90km west of Vienna, has been partially submerged

North of Prague, further downstream, the River Elbe is rising to levels approaching those seen in 2002, the last time Europe experienced similar floods.

Seventeen people were killed in the Czech Republic in August 2002 and the cost of the damage across the continent was estimated at 20bn euros (£17bn).

Main roads in many areas of central Europe have been closed and rail services cut. Thousands of homes are without power.

In Austria, the meteorological service said two months of rain had fallen in just two days.

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Floods across Central Europe
Map showing the rivers causing flooding in central Europe
  • Austria Two people have died and several are missing in the west of the country
  • Germany Two people are dead and evacuations have taken place in Saxony, while more rain is forecast in Bavaria
  • Czech Republic Seven people have died and Prague is on high alert. Troops have been called in to erect flood defences
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One man was found dead near Salzburg and another in the western state of Vorarlberg. Three people remain missing.

More than 300 people were moved from their homes in Salzburg and the neighbouring Tyrol as the army worked with the civil authorities to clear landslides and make roads passable. Parts of the Pinzgau region have been declared a disaster zone.

'Extremely dramatic'

The BBC's Stephen Evans talks to a rescue worker in Passau, Germany

In Germany, the army said it had sent 1,760 soldiers to southern and eastern areas to help local authorities reinforce flood defences.

Towns and cities in Saxony, Thuringia and Baden-Wuerttemberg have also been inundated.

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We are getting bad news from Germany and Austria. We have to do all we can to protect... the capital [Bratislava]”

End Quote Robert Fico Slovakian Prime Minister

Shipping was halted on parts of the Danube and Rhine rivers in Germany, and the entire length of the Danube in Austria. The rivers are used heavily to transport commodities such as grain and coal.

The European Union has said it stands ready to help the three countries as they tackle the devastating floods.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico also warned that there was a risk of flooding as water moved down the Danube, which flows through Bratislava.

"We are getting bad news from Germany and Austria. We have to do all we can to protect... the capital," he said.

The head of Hungary's National Disaster Authority, Gyorgy Bakondi, said 400 people were working on flood defences in the capital, Budapest, where he said the level of the Danube might reach or even exceed the height seen in 2002.

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