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Authorities Evacuate 50,000 in Prague as Floods Sweep Across Europe - 2002-08-13

Czech authorities have ordered 50,000 people to evacuate Prague, as the Republic experiences its worst flooding in more than a century. At least 76 people have already died across Central and Eastern Europe as flood waters swept from Russia's Black Sea region to Austria.

With the river Vltava nearing its highest level since 1890, Czech officials urged tens of thousands of Prague residents to evacuate the historic city.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla declared a state of emergency in the capital and other parts of the country where seven people died after days of heavy rain sent Czech rivers spilling out of their banks.

Earlier, 100 patients from a Prague hospital were evacuated and the animals from a zoo were moved to higher ground.

Volunteers, soldiers and fire fighters are working around the clock to help bring people in safety and to protect Prague's main tourist attractions, including the National Gallery. They also tried to save books and important documents in buildings housing the National Library and the Czech Senate.

Despite these efforts, Czech officials warned that the old center would be under water by early afternoon local time Tuesday.

The 14th-century Charles Bridge, which is decorated with statues of saints, was closed to allow cranes to remove tree trunks and other debris dumped there by the fast flowing river.

The floods have already caused millions of dollars of damage and have badly affected the lucrative Czech tourism industry. In addition the Czech crown fell on Tuesday against the dollar, on fears of the effect on the economy, and the stock exchange was closed.

Elsewhere in Central Europe, three weeks of bad weather has claimed ten lives in Romania. In Germany on Monday three people were killed in floods.

In Austria, where at least four people lost their lives, helicopters have been trying to rescue stranded homeowners from rooftops in several places.

Salzburg was declared a disaster area while the capital Vienna was also preparing for floods.

In neighboring Hungary almost 40 villages have been evacuated.

The authorities are hoping these measures will prevent a situation similar to that in Russia's black sea area, where about 60 people died.

The short term weather forecast for Central and Eastern Europe calls for more rain.