Raging Elbe Waters Head North | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.08.2002
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Raging Elbe Waters Head North

The Elbe is continuing its relentless surge towards northern Germany, despite falling water levels. Thousands of people are being evacuated from their homes as soldiers and volunteers continue reinforcing dykes.


A picture of devastation

Although residents of Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt can breathe a sigh of relief now that the worst of the flooding is seemingly over, residents in towns to the north are still holding their breath, as the flood surge of a still-raging Elbe river rushes their way.

Some 20,000 Germans were evacuated from their homes on Wednesday in the state of Brandenburg and areas surrounding Hamburg.

About 50,000 troops, border police, technical assistance workers along with some 100,000 volunteers are fighting the floods or trying to clean up as waters recede.

Largest deployment since World War Two

"This has been the federal government’s biggest deployment in post-war history", Chancellor Schröder told a news conference on Wednesday. "We have to brace ourselves for a rise in the number of victims".

Floods caused by torrential rains have killed at least 98 people in Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic in recent weeks. The death toll in the state of Saxony rose to 16 with the discovery of another body.

Lauenburg at risk

Lauenburg in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, about 40 kilometres south east of Hamburg, is in a state of high alert.

On Monday water levels were at 8,61 metres. On Thursday, the levels have been reported to be rising rapidly -- two to three centimetres an hour. The town expects a record level of 9,10 metres by Saturday.

The dyke at Lauenburg is considered one of the most vulnerable spots in the flood-threatened areas of Schleswig-Holstein.

Falling Water Levels

Meanwhile water levels continued to sink in other places.

Workers in the state of Saxony, armed with spades and excavators, have begun operations to clean up the enormous amounts of dirt and slime left by the receding flood waters.

In the city of Dresden, where the Elbe peaked at over 9 metres last Saturday, the river level has fallen to 4,64 metres.

Even in Saxony-Anhalt the situation is easing with sinking water levels near the capital Magdeburg as well as near Wittenberge in Brandenburg.

Stupendous damage

The floods have forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and ravaged houses, roads, railway lines and harvests.

According to Chancellor Schröder, the damage wrought by Germany’s worst floods in a century will require a "second rebirth" for the regions of the former East Germany worst affected.

Damages in Germany are estimated at about 15 billion euro ($14.5 million), with Saxony and other eastern German states the worst-hit, followed closely by Bavaria.

Infrastruture damage has also been extensive. Deutsche Bahn estimates that more than 500 kilometres of track have been washed away or destroyed and costs could reach at least 1 billion euro (dollars).

Georg Milbradt, Christian Democrat Premier of Saxony, called the destruction to his state as "the greatest catastrophe in living memory".

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