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Danube Reaches Record Levels in Budapest - 2002-08-19


The Danube River has reached record levels in Budapest, Hungary. But the city has so far escaped the widespread damage suffered by other flooded cities in central and eastern Europe. And officials say they believe the city's dikes and other flood defenses will hold.

Thousands of soldiers, firefighters and volunteers worked through the night to shore up the dikes protecting the Hungarian capital.

The Danube River, which divides the Buda and Pest sections of the city, has submerged main roads and nearly swamped the parliament building. A natural park with luxury hotels, Margaret Island, is partly under water, and other districts have seen streets turned into rivers.

But Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said he is confident the 19th century dikes will hold. Other Hungarian cities, including a former capital, Visegrad, remain on high alert. In Visegrad, water threatened hundreds of homes, restaurants and a royal palace. The government cancelled festivities around Hungary's National Holiday of St. Stephen on August 20, which included fireworks, a water show and a parachute descent in the Danube.

In Germany, more than 100,000 emergency workers, soldiers and volunteers have piled tons of sandbags onto sodden dikes along the Elbe and Mulde Rivers to protect several towns as well as the region's large chemical complex. Workers had to retreat late Sunday after the Elbe broke its banks in seven places near Wittenberg.

Rescuers used boats and ropes to bring several people trapped in their homes to safety.

European leaders agreed Sunday on a plan for aid to countries stricken by the floods. The aid will go not just to European Union members like Germany and Austria but also to prospective EU members such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

The European Investment Bank has already pledged $1 billion in low-interest loans for affected countries. Officials and insurers suggest the flood damage in central and eastern Europe may exceed $20 billion. More than one half of that is in Germany, which faces its biggest relief effort since World War II.

In Austria, the government has made nearly $1 billion available to help flood victims.

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