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Germany

Dresdeners Begin Painful Cleanup Process

Dresden's residents are returning to battered homes as the Elbe and Weisseritz rivers retreat after spending their fury. As the city takes stock of the damage, it’s clear it will be long before normality prevails.

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Trail of destruction - a room on the ground floor of the Semper Opera

Most of the 35,000 evacuated residents of Dresden returned to their homes this week.

What awaited them was not pretty. Thick slime - left behind by the receding waters and now hardened to pancake by the hot summer sun - covers most of what remains of their houses.

Worse yet, most cellars are still flooded. Dresden authorities are advising people against pumping the water out as long as groundwater from outside still presses against the walls.

Trash cans for dead pets

Large waste containers have been set up all over for residents to dispose of bulky waste like damaged furniture as well as separate containers for rotten food and dead house pets.

Residents have been warned not to attempt to repair dead electricity lines in their apartments. Though tap water has been deemed safe to consume, the supply is very limited.

Collapse of sewage facilities

A major concern remains the sewage, which authorities say is flowing unfiltered into the Elbe River on account of the collapse of the nearby Kaditz water treatment plant.

A spokesperson for the city drainage system told Deutsche Welle that the Kaditz plant normally treats sewage from some 500,000 Dresden homes and those in a few surrounding areas before it flows into the Elbe. "We now have a situation where the purification treatment hasn’t taken place since Friday", he said.

Soldiers from the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, are now working feverishly to repair Dresden’s flooded water treatment plants. In the meantime, residents have been advised to thoroughly wash everything that has come into contact with water from the Elbe.

A painful process

Despite the fact that just 15 percent of Dresden’s surface area was submerged during the floods, the entire city has been thrown off balance.

Affected residents have been queueing up outside the city administration offices since Monday to receive as much as 2000 euro in immediate financial assistance.

Transportation in the city is slowly limping back to normal. City waste pickup trucks have begun plying their usual routes wherever possible, and even the badly-damaged main train station, which stood 1.5 metres (nearly five feet) under water, is seeing some life again.

Regional trains have returned to service as largely intact platforms are being opened, and two-thirds of the schools in the city plan to take up lessons soon.

There are chaotic traffic conditions early mornings and late evenings because not all the bridges over the Elbe are structurally sound. As the water levels of the Elbe, which last week reached a record mark of 9.5 metres, sink hourly by five centimetres and the river quiets down, divers have begun inspecting the shafts of the bridges for durability.

Dresden's cultural treasures at risk

Numerous buildings, among them the world-famous Semper Opera and the Zwinger Palace museum housing old masterpieces in the old baroque quarters of the city, have been severely damaged.

Volunteers did manage to get some 20,000 large and small paintings and other works of arts in safe dry places before the floods washed over the buildings.

The Arts and Science Minister of the state of Saxony, who himself carted some of the art works to safety, took stock of the situation in Dresden yesterday.

He said Dresden's cultural institutions had been badly hit, but all the art works had been saved. A bigger concern he said, "is the almost tropical conditions that are being created on account of so much water in and around the city and rising summer heat".

That could affect the surface material of those "museums that are outfitted with air-conditioning, for instance, since the humidity in the air can’t be controlled at the moment". He emphasised that a return to normality was needed to "restore the paintings to a sensible condition".

City needs money to cope

But a return to normality could take a very long time.

Dresden estimates flood damages in the reach of several billions of euro. Though there are plenty of unemployed people now rushing to labour offices to offer their services for flood-related work, the city is in dire need of financial resources.

Chancellor Schröder as well as the European Union have promised speedy aid. Some of it is also arriving from as far away as America.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once served in Dresden along with Soviet troops stationed in east Germany, has sent the city two amphibious vehicles to help cope with the situation.

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