Germans Battle Rising Floods Threatening Historic Cities

By and | June 6, 2013

Firefighters, soldiers and volunteers in eastern Germany toiled through the night to defend against floods that have submerged towns, villages and farmlands for the second time in 11 years.

Crews in Dresden, home to the 18th century Frauenkirche that was rebuilt after German re-unification in 1990 and which narrowly escaped serious damage in the last deluge, have evacuated more than 1,300 people from low-lying areas as the Elbe River inches closer to the 9.4-meter (31 feet) high recorded in 2002. The water stood at 8.6 meters as of 7 p.m. yesterday evening, according to German authorities.

The floods, triggered by unseasonal heavy rainfall, are part of the worst in Central Europe since 2002, when rising waters overwhelmed towns and cities in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Danube region. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Germany and rail, road and river traffic disrupted by the rising waters.

“We have seen many, many volunteers working hand in hand with professional forces all day, and probably through the night,” said Heike Grossmann, a spokeswoman for the city of Dresden. “The Elbe is rising slowly but constantly. We can’t say yet when it will crest.”

‘More Precarious’

Volunteers traveled to the capital of the state of Saxony from other parts of Germany to assist in the relief effort, she said. Dresden has set up a hot-line that connects people offering aid with those needing it.

Responders connecting on social media teamed up with emergency services as homes on the banks of the Elbe succumbed to the floods, submerging the district of Gohlis.

While protection installed after the 2002 floods will probably save Dresden’s historic center from the torrents, the situation is “more precarious” in some districts located further downstream, Grossmann said.

As water levels subsided in parts of Bavaria, Austria and the Czech Republic, the full force of the deluge that has swamped central Europe since the weekend is expected to hit Dresden and other towns along the Elbe in the coming days.

Officials in the city of Halle on the Saale, a tributary of the Elbe, advised 30,000 people to leave their homes yesterday as water levels rose to the highest in about 400 years, Drago Bock, a city spokesman, said by phone.

Pledged Aid

The Saale has begun to sink after cresting at 8.1 meters and is expected to recede further in the coming days, he said.

Five hundred ships are moored along German waterways, unable to continue their journey as the floods persist, Rheinische Post reported, citing German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer.

The federal government and KfW development bank have pledged 200 million euros ($262 million) in immediate aid and loans to support private individuals, small businesses and municipalities affected by the catastrophe. Germany is also in talks with European Union partners to obtain assistance from EU structural and solidarity funds, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said yesterday.

French and Dutch soldiers joined 5,600 German troops evacuating thousands of people, giving medical aid and propping up dams.

Volkswagen AG’s Porsche said it will halt production at its assembly plant in Leipzig, where the Cayenne sport-utility vehicle is built, because the floods are preventing freight trains from delivering components made in Bratislava.

Water levels continued to rise in Usti nad Labem, a Czech regional capital northwest of Prague on the German border that is situated on the Elbe. Officials expect the river to crest there today at about 11 meters, close to 2002 levels.

Editors: Angela Cullen, James Kraus

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