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Record Floods Threaten Several German Landmarks - 2002-08-16


Record water levels have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes across Eastern Germany, as rescue workers desperately try to protect the historic center of Dresden against the biggest flood in 150 yeas. Several landmarks are threatened and other central European cities are yet to be effected by the rising waters.

Some 30,000 people were being evacuated from Dresden as the river Elbe reached its highest level since 1845. Officials said they saw no end yet to the rising water which reached nearly nine meters early Friday. Rescue workers feared that landmarks of baroque Dresden, seen as the jewel of Germany, would be swamped by water. Volunteers had helped to shore up dikes but their efforts appeared to be no match for the Elbe.

Thousands of emergency workers and volunteers worked through the night to stack sandbags around the city's restored center, which boasts architectural gems.

Emergency services officials said another 35,000 people in the cities of Bitterfeld and Magdeburg, in the neighboring state of Saxony-Anhalt, were also on stand-by to abandon their homes.

In the Czech capital, Prague, residents and officials were counting the costs as water levels eased on the River Vltava from its highest peak in the city's 800 year history. Experts estimate that damage in the Czech Republic will be at least $2 billion. Nearly a dozen people died in the Czech Republic, where 200,000 people were forced from their homes. Animals suffered as well. Officials said about 100 animals at the Praque Zoo died, including an elephant, 80 birds and a gorilla.

Authorities in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, where a state of emergency has been declared, still hope the town will not experience the same damage as in Prague.

In the Hungarian capital Budapest hundreds of people have been evacuated, and main roads closed. The Hungarian Government met in an emergency session late Thursday, as soldiers and rescue workers shored up dikes along a stretch of the Danube river, which is expected to rise to its highest level in decades.

The Hungarian government and other authorities across Central and Eastern Europe have come under pressure to do more for the millions of people effected by the historic floods, including many who have no flood insurance.

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