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Dyke bursts as Germany battles historic floods

germanyBERLIN: Germany battled yesterday against historic floods wreaking death and destruction across central Europe as a dyke burst forcing hundreds from their homes but the Hungarian capital averted devastation. Parts of northern Germany continued to be threatened by the swollen River Elbe where a dyke was breached overnight in Saxony- Anhalt state, adding hundreds to the already thousands of German residents to have been evacuated. Downstream in Magdeburg, more than 23,000 residents of the city and its surrounding areas had still not been given the green light to return to their homes after the Elbe rose to nearly four times its normal level. Levels had dropped to 7.30 m yesterday after reaching 7.48 m but authorities remained on edge. The normal level is around two metres. “The situation in Magdeburg is under control for the moment... but there is still not cause yet to breathe a sigh of relief or to lift the alert,” a spokeswoman for the region’s emergency task force.

The water level in Magdeburg exceeded that of previous record floods of 2002, local authorities said. Magdeburg lies downriver from where the River Saale spills into the Elbe, creating a water surge, a record 40 km long. Further downstream, towns including Lauenburg and the village of Hitzacker in Lower Saxony were preparing for the peak to hit in coming days while in Wittenberge, in Brandenburg state that surrounds the capital Berlin, officials were bracing for the Elbe to reach new record highs yesterday. Overnight near the village of Fischbeck, the torrent of water forced a 10-metre breach in the dyke which quickly grew to 50 m, sparking the order for the village’s 400-500 residents to leave, as well as those of three neighbouring villages. The rupture also closed a railway bridge forcing a diversion in train services between Berlin and Cologne or Frankfurt. The torrent of flood waters in Germany has turned vast areas into a brown water world, sparked a mass mobilisation of emergency workers and caused billions of euros in damage in what one lawmaker termed a “national catastrophe”.

After fearing the worst, Hungary breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after flood defences held firm in its capital Budapest, averting disaster and the mighty River Danube started to recede after reaching a historic high. As the situation in Budapest began to normalise, the focus of Hungary’s defence efforts moved to high-risk locations in the south of the country, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said yesterday. “Budapest should be out of danger by Wednesday, and hopes to present a faultless record - no deaths or injuries due to the flood,” he said, after the Danube in Budapest reached a historic peak of 8.91 m on Sunday evening but had begun to fall early yesterday. The deluge has also sparked massive emergency responses in Austria, where the death toll has now reached five, and Slovakia. Across central Europe, the floods have killed at least 19 people, including 10 in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic more rain was expected yesterday after storms and heavy rain raised water levels on some rivers and brooks, causing local flooding Sunday and police said the number of missing had risen to six. Slovakia was getting back to normal with water levels falling but forecasters had predicted rain for yesterday too. The rains have also severely swelled the Danube in southern Germany, especially the city of Passau, which has moved from alert to clean-up mode. Adding to tensions was a threat to attack dykes from a group calling itself the “Germanophobic Flood Brigade”. Aerial and ground surveillance had been stepped up, said Saxony-Anhalt state interior minister Holger Stahlknecht. But more rains were expected yesterday in Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria, with as much as 50 litres per square metre expected within a few hours. — AFP

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This article was published on 10/06/2013