The Czech capital Prague declared a state of emergency as the worst flooding for more than a decade tore into the city, threatening to engulf the streets of its historic heart.
Supported by troops and volunteers, Prague's fire brigade erected metal flood barriers and sandbag walls in a battle to keep the River Vltava at bay while the city zoo's tigers were tranquillised as part of an animal exodus to the safety of dry ground.
Schools were closed, much of the Prague transport system shut down and the famous Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava, usually jammed with tourists, was closed.
Days of torrential rain have hit central Europe and turned placid rivers into raging, muddy torrents that have claimed the lives of eight people and destroyed scores of buildings across the Czech Republic, southern Germany and Austria. Nine people are missing.
In the Czech Republic, more than 7000 people have been evacuated. Petr Necas, the Czech Prime Minister, said he had ordered the release of emergency funding for people who had lost their homes to the flooding.
The country's Health Ministry warned of the spread of waterborne diseases owing to flooding disrupting water supplies and flushing raw sewage on to the streets.
"People aren't frightened but they are anxious with many of them going down to look at the river," said Michael Prochazka, a Prague local. "We don't really know when it's going to peak so who knows what will happen."
The Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia suffered severe damage from the flooding, especially in mountainous areas where narrow valleys funnelled the destructive force of the water. In Germany, the Government deployed 1760 soldiers as flood waters engulfed the centre of the southern city of Passau, passing the previous high-water mark set by floods in 1954.
Further south, the cities of Bratislava and Budapest braced themselves as flood waters made their way down the swollen Danube. In Poland, dozens of towns went on alert as water levels on rivers flowing from the Czech Republic began to rise.
The flooding is the worst to strike the Czech Republic since 2002, when rivers burst their banks and caused damage estimated at millions of pounds.