Tens of thousands homeless in 'worst' Europe floods

By Tony Paterson

The flooded Elbe River swamps the old town of Meissen, eastern Germany.  Photo / AP
The flooded Elbe River swamps the old town of Meissen, eastern Germany. Photo / AP

Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes across Germany and Hungary yesterday as further dramatic rises in the levels of the swollen Elbe and Danube Rivers continued to cause some of the most devastating floods ever experienced in Central Europe.

In the east German city of Magdeburg, flood waters from the Elbe rose 80cm higher than during 2002's so-called flood of the century.

Some 23,000 residents were forced to flee their homes as soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers battled furiously to shore up dykes.

City officials said an entire district of Magdeburg faced the possibility of being submerged and there were fears that an electricity-supply station would be flooded, shutting off power.

"You just cannot imagine what people are having to deal with," said German President Joachim Gauck after touring flood-hit towns yesterday.

The flooding northwards along the Elbe is expected to continue and possibly even worsen this week as waters from the river's swollen tributaries flow into the main river south of Magdeburg and head northwest.

In southern Germany, thousands of residents were struggling with a massive clean-up operation following devastating Danube floods which hit parts of Bavaria last week. Further heavy rain is forecast for southern Germany and further flooding in the region could not be ruled out.

So far at least 15 people have died in Central Europe since the flooding began a week ago. In Germany, 70,000 firemen, 11,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of volunteer rescue workers are battling the rising waters.

The Elbe cities of Wittenberge and Lauenburg were also hit by severe flooding and officials said they expected water levels would remain high for days. By contrast, 10,000 residents evacuated from the town of Bitterfeld, further south, were being allowed to return home as the floodwaters receded.

German police said the problems caused by the floods were exacerbated by letters circulated by a suspected left-wing group, threatening to damage sections of already weakened river dykes in order to create chaos. The letters, signed by a group calling itself the anti-German, anti-fascist flood brigade, threatened to strike at dykes in order to harm people across Germany. Police said they had stepped up helicopter surveillance and road patrols in response.

In Hungary, thousands of volunteers, rescue workers and even convicts were reinforcing dykes along a 756km stretch of the swollen Danube. Some 2000 residents were evacuated from the village of Gyorujfalu in western Hungary because a dyke threatened to burst.

Small towns and villages have already been cut off and in Budapest the Danube was expected to reach record levels last night.

- Independent

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