East Germany Prepares for Dam Bursts as Prague Begins Clean-Up

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, which is the worst on record in some parts of the country and recalls 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 1,000 people from low-lying areas of the city in the past 48 hours and expect to relocate several thousand more 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.”

Historic City

The Elbe had risen to 8.34 meters (27 feet) in Dresden as of 8 a.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.

As many as 4,000 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. A contingent of 185 Dutch troops arrived in the region yesterday to aid 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.

Saxony-Anhalt’s Governor 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 70 years.

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.

‘Critical’ Condition

Two levees are in “critical” condition and would flood Halle’s Neustadt district if they burst, Drago Bock, a city spokesman, said today. Authorities are urging the district’s residents to evacuate to emergency accommodation, he said. As many as 1,500 emergency staff and volunteers are working to protect the city with pumps and at least 140,000 sandbags.

“It seems that levels aren’t rising anymore,” Bock said by phone. “We’re hoping that the dams will hold. They’re very weak and a lot of water is seeping through them. We need to be prepared for every eventuality.”

More than 50 prisoners are aiding staff to remove 6,000 meters of files from the land charge 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.

Weather Improving

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.

As of 6 a.m., 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.

With assistance from Alexander Weber in Vienna. Editors: Angela Cullen, Hellmuth Tromm