The Interior Ministry in Magdeburg said on Friday that the Elbe River had surpassed 7 meters, eclipsing a high point of 6.72 meters during the last major German floods of 2002. The Elbe would normally stand around the 2-meter mark in the state capital of Saxony-Anhalt, to the west of Berlin.
Officials expect the highest levels on Sunday. Several other towns in the region reported record levels as the worst of the Elbe flooding flowed north.
Firefighters, more than 11,000 Bundeswehr soldiers and volunteers continued to battle to shore up dams in Saxony-Anhalt and upstream in Saxony to the south. In Saxony, the Elbe was receding gradually but remained dangerously high. German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, himself swimming in separate political difficulties tied to an abandoned project for unmanned drone aircraft, toured some of the worst-affected areas on Friday.
Both states evacuated settlements considered at the greatest risk, with more than 10,000 people asked to leave their homes as a precaution. Parts of Bitterfeld, also home to a major Bayer pharmaceuticals factory, have been evacuated since Tuesday.
To the south in Bavaria, officials reported cautious optimism - although towns including Passau remained at the highest-available flood warning level 4, at least until Saturday.
Danube floodwaters head for Hungary
The DIHK Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry said that the costs of the flooding might eclipse the damages sustained in 2002.
"In 2002, the damages to the economy caused by the flooding reached roughly 11 billion euros ($14.5 billion)," DIHK President Eric Schweitzer told the Rheinische Post paper. "In some regions the extent of the damages might well be greater than in 2002."
In western Hungary, the Danube's waters crested early on Friday as the capital Budapest braced for its share of flooding. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had spent the night in a military barracks in Gyor in the west of the country, said in a statement that it was "now clear we are facing the largest-ever flood on the Danube, so we must be prepared for the worst."
Budapest was expecting the worst of the Danube's floodwaters to arrive on Monday, with the mayor of the city, Istvan Tarlos, saying as many as 55,000 people might have to leave their homes.
msh/dr (dpa, Reuters)