Floods cause deaths and havoc across central Europe

Several people killed and thousands evacuated in worst floods to hit central Europe in a decade

Parts of the old town in Passau, southern Germany, flooded by the river Danube. Heavy rainfall had caused flooding along rivers and lakes in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Photograph: AP Photo/dpa, Armin Weigel

Parts of the old town in Passau, southern Germany, flooded by the river Danube. Heavy rainfall had caused flooding along rivers and lakes in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Photograph: AP Photo/dpa, Armin Weigel

 


Several people have been killed and thousands have been evacuated in the biggest floods to hit central Europe in a decade.

The Czech Republic is suffering some of the worst effects of the heavy rain that has swollen rivers across the region, with almost the entire country under a state of emergency and the historic centre of the capital Prague paralysed.

At least six Czechs have died in the floods and several others are missing. As the Vltava river rose to dangerous levels and inundated islands usually bustling with tourists, Czech soldiers, emergency workers and volunteers hurried to erect metal flood barriers and heap sandbags along the Prague embankments.

Beside the historic Charles Bridge, which was closed as the river level climbed, a mechanical digger with a 17m arm reached out into the surging Vltava to retrieve trees and other large debris that threatened to damage the famous statue-lined, 14th-century span.

Streets beside the Vltava were also closed, as were many schools and parts of the Prague metro, amid fears of a repeat of catastrophic 2002 flooding that claimed 17 lives and caused damage estimated at €20 billion.


Moving to safety
Some 7,000 Czechs were moved out from their homes in recent days and hundreds of animals were moved to safety from low-lying enclosures at Prague’s zoo.

Road and rail networks are badly affected in some parts of the country and thousands of homes are without power.

“You realise here what nature can do. How helpless we really are despite having all our technology,” said Prague pensioner Helena Holubova.

Hana Spirkova, who owns a flower shop near Charles Bridge, said she was shocked that Prague was again suffering such major floods.

“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,” she said.

In neighbouring Austria, where at least two people have died in the floods, authorities fear the Danube and Inn rivers could climb higher than in 2002.

“It is still getting worse,” said Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger, who described as “very fraught” the situation in some areas of the country, where evacuations, power cuts, and road and rail closures were widespread.


Military aid
Germany deployed more than 1,700 soldiers to help reinforce flood defences in the southeast of the country, where the city of Passau – at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers – was particularly badly affected.

“The situation is extremely dramatic,” said Passau official Herbert Zillinger, as German media reported that water levels in the city were the highest recorded since 1501.

Downstream on the Danube, cities including Budapest and Bratislava were on the alert for high water, and they were reinforcing flood defences.

“We are getting bad news from Germany and Austria. We have to do all we can to protect . . . the capital,” said Slovak prime minister Robert Fico.