The river Elbe has swept record floodwaters through Germany's eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. One dike near Magdeburg burst overnight despite efforts by emergency workers. The water mass is draining toward Hamburg.
A regional disaster management official reported a major dam breach overnight at the small riverside village of Fischbeck, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the Saxony-Anhalt's capital Magdeburg. All Fischbeck's residents, numbering between 400 and 500, were immediately asked to leave their homes - along with people in three neighboring settlements. The village is close to the border with the state of Brandenburg.
German rail service Deutsche Bahn announced on Monday that two of its key high-speed ICE lines linking Berlin with western Germany would face significant diversions and delays as a result of the damage to the dam.
In Magdeburg, a spokeswoman for disaster management authorities told the AFP news agency early on Monday that the Elbe's levels had begun sinking "more quickly than first thought."
"The situation in Magdeburg is currently under control," she said. "But there's no reason to breathe easy or lift the alarm as yet."
More than 20,000 people in the city had been asked to leave their homes, with precautionary evacuations affecting more than 44,000 people throughout Saxony-Anhalt as a whole.
"We have never seen so much water in Saxony-Anhalt," Christian Democrat State Premier Reiner Haseloff told 'Die Welt' newspaper in comments published on Monday. "The north of the state is under water. I sometimes had the impression I was in the Amazon basin."
Some 700 Bundeswehr troops in Madeburg's Rothensee suburb were concentrating on protecting an electric substation from the high waters, with the facility's power crucial to efforts to pump excess water out of the city.
'All of Germany united'
As the crest of the Elbe river headed downstream toward Hamburg, authorities warned that the high water levels spanned some 40 kilometers of river, meaning pressure on regional dams would remain high for several days.
German President Joachim Gauck toured some of the affected eastern regions on Sunday, saying it was difficult even to imagine the extent of the rebuilding work ahead.
"But we proved during the floods in 2002 that we will be able to manage," Gauck said.
Some 70,000 firefighters and 11,000 Bundeswehr soldiers, along with civilian volunteers, are mobilized around the country working to protect settlements, dams and other key facilities. Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the collective response over the weekend.
"Germany is standing together admirably during these days - and this should remain the case," Merkel said.
To the south in Bavaria, which faced its worst flooding from the River Danube last week, efforts are already underway to clear the mud and silt left in the water's wake before the sediment hardens and sets. The Danube's crest, meanwhile, has moved downstream and was approaching the Hungarian capital Budapest on Monday morning.
msh/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuter)