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Eastern Europe Still Reeling Under Flood Waters - 2002-08-14

Rescue workers desperately tried to protect landmarks in the Czech capital Prague against the worst flood in the city's 800 year history, which is also spreading to neighboring Slovakia and other areas. A state of emergency has been declared in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

Fire fighters and volunteers fought back river waters swamping the National Theater and other major tourist attractions. However a number of palaces and historic buildings from the Habsburg era could not be saved from the rising Vltava river.

The raging river hit its highest point yet in the flooding on Wednesday, just hours after police evacuated residents from the Czech Capital's old section. However help came too late for an an 81-year-old man who reportedly drowned after refusing to evacuate his home south of Prague, raising the Czech Republic's death toll to 10.

Flood waters gradually began receding late Wednesday, raising spirits among officials who worked around the clock to secure the city, where an estimated 70,000 people had left their homes.

However in Bratislava, capital of neighboring Slovakia, residents were preparing to face what Government officials described as the worst flood in 500 years.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency in Bratislava, as soldiers build anti-flood barriers to protect the capital's medieval heart from the flooding that has killed close to 100 people across Central and Eastern Europe.

Experts said the floods also caused at least $2 billion in damages and could seriously hurt the economy of the Czech Republic, at a time when it tries to join the European Union by 2004. Most of the casualties in Europe's worst summer floods in decades have been in Russia, where the death toll rose to nearly sixty in the Black Sea region.

In Austria, where at least seven people died, the swollen Danube River flooded a popular Vienna island used for recreation and picnics, submerging small restaurants and stalls.

In Germany, army helicopters have been used to evacuated at least 400 patients out of one hospital in Dresden, 200 kilometers south of Berlin as the warders swept through from the Czech Republic into eastern Germany. Thousands of people in several other cities in Saxony area have also fled as the water poured over the banks of the River Elbe.

Here in Budapest, the Danube is expected to reach its highest level in nearly forty years. Large luxury cruise ships have been tied up in the Hungarian capital, as they can no longer pass under a bridge. Rescue workers are strengthening flood defenses as more rain is in the forecast for most countries in Eastern Europe in the next couple days.