Europe’s flood drama shifts north from Danube to Elbe

Merkel urged to increase aid for German flood damage to at least €2bn

A garden with a swimming pool is inundated by the waters of the Elbe river during floods near Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

A garden with a swimming pool is inundated by the waters of the Elbe river during floods near Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 01:00



Europe’s flood drama shifted north yesterday as the swollen river Elbe burst through several dams near the eastern city of Magdeburg. One 50-metre breach of a dam in the state of Saxony-Anhalt caused mass evacuations of nearby towns and villages and major disruption to high-speed train traffic between Frankfurt, Hanover and Berlin.

An unusually wet spring has caused chaos in central Europe as the continent’s main river arteries and tributaries rose to well above regular levels.


Danube respite
Residents of Budapest, Passau and other cities on the banks of the Danube breathed a little easier as the record water levels stabilised and in some cases began to drop.

Further north, however, the Elbe rose to 7.5 metres in Magdeburg – regular levels are less than half that – leaving locals fearing the worst. Water levels began to drop slowly yesterday, but some 20,000 people in several districts of the city were evacuated as a precaution. In total, some 44,000 people in the state have been ordered to leave their homes.

“Germany is standing together admirably during these days – and this should remain the case,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a visit to the city of Wittenberg. Water levels were set to rise above eight metres there today, almost a metre above the previous record of a decade ago.

German state governors warned Dr Merkel that €100 million in aid would have to be increased to at least €2 billion to cope with the structural damage. Emergency services are waiting to see what effect the Elbe dam breaches have in the coming days when the floodwaters spill into neighbouring Brandenburg and, further north, Hamburg.


‘Stinking slurry’
“We have never seen so much water in Saxony-Anhalt,” said state premier Reiner Haseloff. “There were times I had the impression I was in the Amazon basin.” Some 5,000 Passau residents were allowed return to their homes after a week away, but only for a short time, before returning to emergency accommodation.

Many discovered their homes knee-deep in contaminated water, with total structural damage in Passau and nearby Deggendorf estimated at €600 million. Clean-up operations in southern Germany are likely to take months. In Deggendorf, a town spokesman said floodwaters had left a “stinking slurry” of water, oil, sewage and wild animal carcasses. More chaos is expected as meteorologists forecast Bavaria and Baden- Württemberg were facing further torrential rain of up to 100 litres per square metre.