Residents of Germany awoke on Thursday to worsening conditions as flood waters rose, pushing levees to their limits and forcing a mass evacuation.
The Elbe River crested at 8.75 meters (28.7 feet) in Dresden on Thursday morning, according to Germany's flood control center. The upsurge in water levels weren't expected to rise further, but city officials warned that the waters wouldn't recede for close to a week at the very least.
Dresden officials had confirmed earlier that emergency measures put into place after the "century floods" in 2002, when the Elbe rose to 9.4 meters, had proven effective. Nevertheless, "areas to the east of the city are under water," city spokesperson Kai Schulz said.
To the south, two damns burst along the Danube and Isar rivers near the Bavarian town of Deggendorf overnight, forcing the evacuation of at least 6,000 residents.
The Elbe was expected to reach 11 meters in the northern regions of the Czech Republic on Thursday. There, too, at least 19,000 residents had been evacuated, according to firefighters.
While the situation remained critical across much of east Bavaria and Saxony, the worst appeared to be over in the city of Halle, located in Saxony-Anhalt.
Authorities had asked 30,000 residents to evacuate the previous day after water rose to over one meter in the downtown area. The Saale, a tributary of the Elbe, had reached its highest levels in 400 years.
Thousands of volunteers have joined emergency efforts, filling sandbags, reinforcing levees and building elevated walkways to flood homes.
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to the southern German city of Passau, where the Danube crested at 12.89 meters, the highest level in roughly 500 years. Merkel pledged 100 million euros ($130.7 million) in direct aid recovery efforts in the region and other flood-hit areas.
Northeast Germany braces itself
The convergence of rising waters from the Elbe, Danube and their tributaries now poses a threat to Germany's northeast. The state of Brandenburg – where the city-state of Berlin is located - feared the worst, but remained uncertain whether the waters would impact its territory.
The Brandenburg interior minister told public broadcaster RBB that the levies were expected to hold, but that no one could say with certainty what would happen.
"This time it's the impact of [not just the Elbe, but the] brunt of all of the tributaries and that's what's difficult to calculate," Brandenburg Interior Minister Dietmar Woidke told public broadcaster RBB, referring to the catastrophic flooding in 2002.
Evacuations have already taken place in Brandenburg, as well as in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.
At least 16 people have died since the flooding began. Officials have reported eight fatalities in the Czech Republic, five in Germany, two in Austria and one in Slovakia.
kms/slk (AFP, Reuters, epd, dpa)