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Floods Still Threaten Europe - 2002-08-17


With the city of Dresden inundated by its biggest flood in 157 years, the Interior Ministry is warning tens of thousands of evacuated people that the turning point may not have been reached. And while more than 4 million people in Germany battle against the rampaging waters, other central and eastern European cities are also experiencing serious floods.

The Elbe River has submerged Dresden's historic inner city. Architectural landmarks such as the Zwinger Palace, the Semper Opera and the Royal Palace are flooded, and authorities are advising residents to drink only bottle water, because the city's water supply system has been fractured in several locations.

Firefighters were seen pumping water from basements, often a losing an unsavory battle against the floods that officials say have killed at least 11 people in the Saxony region, of which Dresden is the capital.

Saxony Interior Ministry officials said a 56-year-old man in Dresden died Friday night when he drowned while taking a last look at his basement before he was to have been evacuated.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has pledged government aid and will host a meeting on Sunday in Berlin, 200 kilometers north of Dresden, to discuss the situation with ministers from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as European Commission President Romano Prodi.

Several politicians also visited the stricken areas, but Dresden Mayor Ingolf Rossberg told German television that he questioned their intentions in the run-up to upcoming elections in Germany.

"I am against this kind of politics," he said, " and I think I speak also for other flooded areas around the Elbe River when I say that we are cooperating with other towns to save lives and belongings and to protect the towns. " The mayor added that you cannot use the flood for an election campaign for which the people will pay the price.

Authorities across central and eastern Europe have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent severe flooding that already has killed close to 100 people in several countries, including Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Now Hungary is experiencing the effects of the floods, in the capital, Budapest, and surrounding areas. Meanwhile, local officials says some 200 homes, hotels, restaurants and part of a royal palace are at risk of being engulfed by the rising Danube River in the nearby historic city of Visegrad, where the mayor urged people to help reinforce the dams with sandbags.

Visegrad was once the capital of Hungary and is located some 40 kilometers north of Budapest. In Budapest itself, where the Danube has burst its banks, about 1,500 people have been evacuated to higher ground, and hundreds of soldiers and volunteers are working around the clock to protect the famous Margaret Island, where several luxury hotels are located.

Tamas Torok, who coordinates flood prevention efforts, said more suffering can be expected as the Danube reaches record levels.

"The coming days, on Sunday afternoon, the water level will be 873 centimeters, a relative level. This level is the greatest from the last 100 years," he said.

The Hungarian government has declared a state of emergency in Budapest and elsewhere and has pledged about $1 million to flood victims, very few of whom are insured against such disasters.

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