Hungary braces for record flooding

Thousands of soldiers and volunteers use sandbags to reinforce dykes in the latest stage of Central European flooding.

Last Modified: 07 Jun 2013 21:22
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Thousands of Hungarians are working to reinforce dykes along the swelling Danube River, as Budapest braces for what is expected to be the worst deluge in 50 years.

About 10,000 Hungarians, including soldiers and volunteers, are using sandbags to reinforce dykes along 700km of the river.

Central Europe's worst river floods in over a decade have already devastated large areas and forced mass evacuations in parts of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.

In Hungary, the Danube had risen to record levels in the west of the country by Friday morning.

"It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time," Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who spent the night at a military barracks in the deluged western city of Gyor, was quoted as saying in a statement.

Budapest was expected to be worst hit on Monday, with forecasters predicting the river will rise to as high as 8.85 metres, some 25 centimetres higher than the last record set in 2006.

Dresden spared

On Thursday, the Elbe River peaked in the eastern German city of Dresden engulfing surrounding areas.

German city of Dresden battles flooding

Residents and emergency crews had worked through the night on Thursday to fight the floods in the city.

The military and the national disaster team sent more support in a frantic effort to shore up sandbag levees and riverbanks as floodwaters that have claimed 16 lives since last week surged north.

The Elbe hit 8.76 metres around midday, well above its regular level of two metres.

However, it was not high enough to damage the city's famous opera, cathedral and other buildings in its historic city centre, which was devastated in a flood in 2002.

Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Dresden, said that the river is expected to stay at a high level for a longer time than the previous flood.

"So the watch continues in the air and by the river in a town mobilised to prevent history from repeating itself," he said.

So far, eight people in the Czech Republic, five in Germany, two in Austria and one in Slovakia have died from the floods.

Germany has 60,000 local emergency personnel and aid workers, as well as 25,000 federal disaster responders and 16,000 soldiers now fighting the floods.

Flooding damage

Farther downstream, the town of Lauenburg, just southwest of Hamburg, evacuated 150 houses along the Elbe, as the floodwaters roared towards the North Sea.

In the south, the Bavarian city of Deggendorf was hit by a third levee break on Thursday, with floods gushing into neighbourhoods.

Scores of homes remained underwater and authorities warned that a dam was still in danger of bursting.

"It's indescribably bad," Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer said upon visiting the area. "It's beyond comparison."

In Halle, some 30,000 residents were urged to evacuate as the Saale river reached its highest level in 400 years.

In nearby Bitterfeld, meanwhile, authorities were trying to find ways to lower waters threatening the city, after blowing open two levees failed to lessen the pressure on flood defences.

Merkel pledge

Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Bitterfeld, promised swift help to those hit by the floods.

"I think you can rely on everything humanly possible being done," she said after meeting soldiers working to pile up vast walls of sandbags.

The Institute for Economic Research, a private think-tank based in Cologne, has estimated that the floods could cost over $7.9bn in Germany alone.

Many Germans have been taking to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to offer assistance, from helping fill sandbags to caring for pets whose owners had to leave their homes due to the floods.

In the Czech Republic, firefighters said about 700 villages, towns and cities have been hit by flooding in the last few days and some 20,500 people had to be evacuated.

In the country's north, the water in the Elbe reached its highest level overnight and began to recede on Thursday.

In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, the Danube was still rising from the record levels it reached a day earlier, but authorities said protective barriers have held firm so far.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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