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Europe

Swelling Rivers Force Hundreds to Flee in Central Europe

Rising floodwaters have forced thousands in Central Europe to leave their homes. Authorities in the Czech Republic and Germany have called for the evacuation of dozens of cities in the hopes of avoiding a catastrophe.

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Parts of Dresden are only reachable by boat

Days after issuing the first flood warnings, the high water mark on the Elbe and Morava rivers continues to climb. Melting snow and heavy rains have forced the gushing currents over their reinforced embankments in several places in the Czech Republic and Germany. Authorities have called for evacuations in several cities in the region as weather forecasters predict a worsening of the situation through the early part of the week.

Officials in the north and southeast portions of the Czech Republic forced thousands of people to flee their homes on Sunday. In the town of Olomouc, some 250 kilometers (156 miles) southeast of Prague, a total of 2,500 people await evacuation after an anti-flood barrier along the Morava River burst open and gushed through the town in the early morning. In the north of the country, authorities ordered people to leave the town of Hrensko on the German border, where the Elbe and Kamenice rivers meet.

Hochwasser in Tschechien Vranov nad Dyji

Thousands of citizens were evacuated from the southern Czech city of Vranov nad Dyji

As of Saturday night, emergency situations had been declared in half of the Czech Republic's 14 regions. City authorities in the most at risk areas have begun mobilizing emergency aid and establishing municipal accommodation for those evacuated.

German-Czech border region at risk

In the Central Czech region, where the Elbe flows, the situation is especially critical around the town of Melnik, some 30 kilometers north of Prague. The head of the region, Petr Bendl, told reporters that 2,000 people may be forced to flee the town as of Sunday. A 60-kilometer stretch of the river from Melnik to the German border has been targeted as a high risk region. All the cities, towns and villages along this strip of the Elbe are under a state of emergency.

In Germany, around 300 people were evacuated from their homes in Saxony's main city, Dresden as the rising Elbe lapped over its banks and threatened to flood portions of the historic center. Several houses in the neighborhood of Gohlis are underwater, but some 60 residents refuse to leave their homes.

Hochwasser in Dresden - Grossbild

Volunteer helpers pile up sandbags in downtown Dresden on April 1.

Emergency aid workers and the local fire departments have been battling the rising waters since Friday with pumps and sandbags. In the Dresden suburb of Laubegast-Zschieren, some 700 people were urged to leave their houses before authorities issued forced evacuations.

Further down the Elbe, the cities of Bad Schandau, Prina, Wehlen, Rathen, Königstein and Heidenau are already experiencing massive flooding. The German army has been called in to assist in reinforcing damns and protecting historic buildings.

Memories of 2002

For both residents and those assisting in the emergency relief efforts, the flooding brings back memories of the region's last big flood in August 2002. Dubbed the century's worst flood, the high waters of the Elbe and its tributaries caused an immeasurable amount of damage and financial loss. The historic downtowns of Dresden and smaller cities such as Bad Schandau and Pirna were the sight of severe destruction as architectural jewels were swamped with water and residents struggled to hold on to personal possessions.

Hochwasser in Deutschland im Jahr 2006 Wehlen

Downtown Wehlen, 30 kilometers south of Dresden, is underwater

Home owners in the region have spent the last few years repairing their houses and recovering from the 2002 flood. For many, the fear of a similar loss is quite real. In Bad Schandau, a woman told reporters she was worried of suffering another flood. "I don't think I can go through that again. It was too much of an ordeal," she said.

Hoping to calm those fears, Saxony State Premier Georg Milbradt told people they would not experience a catastrophe as in August 2002. "The damages are not comparable, and we are better prepared," he said. "Right now we are having a winter flood that is stronger than normal."

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