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Recovery from Flood Damage Could Take 100 Years, say Czech Officials - 2002-08-25

Czech officials say it could take a century to repair hundreds of thousands of historic books and manuscripts that were damaged during Europe's recent floods. The works include a Bible more than 500 years old.

The Czech culture minister, Pavel Dostal, says it will be another hundred years before his country's national heritage recovers from the flood waters that killed more than 100 people across central and eastern Europe.

Some experts say it could take much longer than that to restore hundreds of thousands of priceless books and manuscripts. These include the first Czech language Bible from 1488, as well as original compositions by Mozart.

After recovering the works from the river waters that soaked them, authorities stored the treasures in a warehouse deep freeze outside the capital, Prague, where they now rest alongside frozen spinach and other foodstuffs.

Special vacuum drying machines from Britain will be used to restore the art works. The Czech government says it has already canceled the $2 billion purchase of 24 Gripen fighter planes to pay for this and other flood damage.

In addition to saving art treasures, local authorities are trying to rescue the environment near Prague. On Friday, a chemical plant 20 kilometers north of the capital, experienced its second chlorine leak in a week as a result of flood damage. Officials say human health is not in danger, but crops and trees in the region have had to be burned back.

There is also concern that some chemicals may have entered into the nearby Elbe river, which flows into neighboring Germany. The total cost of the flooding in the Czech Republic is estimated at about $2 billion.