The Danger Moves Downstream | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.08.2002
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The Danger Moves Downstream

As swollen waters work their way north, volunteers and aid workers in Magdeburg and Dessau prepare for the next wave of flooding and the EU pledges billions for clean-up.


German army soldiers reenforce a dyke as flood waters approach

Even as flood waters receded in Dresden on Sunday, they continued to surge downstream on the Elbe and Mulde rivers in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Disaster relief workers and volunteers worked overnight trying to reenforce dykes and dams with sandbags.

Officials in Saxony-Anhalt say the situation remains precarious in the town of Wittenberg, where at least one dyke has collapsed. Authorities in Bitterfeld, on the Mulde River, say water levels are falling off, but warn that it's too early to sound the all-clear signal. The city is the site of a major chemical manufacturing facility. Meanwhile, residents in the city of Dessau, where the Mulde joins the Elbe, are bracing for rising water levels.

Relief funds pledged

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder besucht vom Hochwasser betroffene Städte - hier in Grimma

Gerhard Schröder

In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (photo) convened a flood relief summit with the leaders of the countries most affected – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria – and European Commission Romano Prodi. The German government has already pledged 100 million euro to relief efforts, with an initial 50 million euro to be paid out directly to the hardest hit states and communities.

"We have to establish what damage has been caused, and how we can fund repair work," Schröder said on Sunday.

"There is a range of relevant factors, including rebuilding the infrastructure, helping individuals whose small businesses have been completely destroyed, and of helping people who have lost their homes or property," he said. "Different situations call for different financing models. But what is clear already is that it's not a question of hundreds of millions of Euros, but one of billions, and we have to join forces in order to meet this challenge."

The European Commission and the EU's main financing body, the European Investment Bank, have pledged five billion euro to Germany in the form of donations and loans to help repair the damage caused by the floods. The United Nations Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, has promised to help restore important monuments and public buildings. A number of European countries have also offered to help.

In Germany alone, early estimates have placed damages at over 10 billion euro.

Waters continue to swell downstream

Menschen füllen Sandsäcke ab


In the city of Torgau in Saxony, more than 10,000 residents had to be evacuated after a dam broke. After the dam gave way, flood waters poured into one of the city's major neighborhoods. However, by mid-morning, the water level had already started to lower, albeit slightly. But officials say the pressure of the river still threatens other dykes in the city, and that the situation could worsen.

In the city of Wittenberg, more than 20 meters of a levee designed to keep the Elbe from flooding broke. But a city spokeswoman said Wittenberg's historical center did not appear to be threatened.

Meanwhile, workers in Magdeburg, the capital city of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, continued to build and stabilize dykes in preparation for the Elbe flood, which is expected to reach its high point in the city on Wednesday as the violent sludge works its way downstream.

Damage assessment begins

In Dresden, where the Elbe's water-level fell to 8.85 meters from a high of 9.4 meters, damage assessment efforts are already beginning.

At the historical Semper Opera, more than 20,000 liters of water are being pumped out of the basement each minute. But officials say the opera's stage and hydraulics have been severely damaged and likely destroyed by the flood.

Officials also worry that the rising ground-water table could create additional problems for historical structures and homes in the 15 percent of the city that has been flooded.

"We're experiencing our most difficult time since February 1945," said Dresden Mayor Ingolf Rossberg.

Engineers are also starting the work of checking the safety of structures damaged by the flooding -- a process that will continue long after the floods subside.

Two hospitals in Dresden were also reopened on Sunday, allowing evacuated patients to return for the first time since disaster struck last week.

kaputte Gleise bei Dresden

Mangled tracks

The damage is most apparent in places where the river has retreated. Railroad tracks have been washed away, rails are twisted and the overhead wires destroyed. Germany's national railway, Deutsche Bahn, has said it will cost billions to repair the rails in the state of Saxony alone, where major intercity rail links have been badly damaged.

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