Some lessons learned on how to handle floods | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.06.2013
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Some lessons learned on how to handle floods

The town of Eilenburg in Saxony has survived the 'Great Floodof 2013' with hardly any damage. In 2002 things were different and the city center was completely inundated. This time, Eilenburg was prepared.

Sporting rubber boots and workman's overalls, Torsten Otto is busy shoveling water from his garage out onto the street. The property of his company in Eilenburg has been flooded and the water most likely has done quite a bit of damage to the buildings. But Otto is not one to complain. He actually praises the work of the authorities and says they did a much better job than back in 2002 when the town was hit by another massive flood. "We got new levies and they were strong enough. Unfortunately, they weren't high enough in some places," he says.

Just like in June 2002, town and villages in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt got hit by the floods of the Mulde river. Eilenburg is half an hour northeast of Leipzig and was hit particularly hard. The river had simply swept away the dikes and retaining walls. The city square was a lake of brown muddy water for days and the water in the streets in the town center was two meters (6 ft. 7 in.) deep. Almost every single person living in the city was affected by the flood, which caused extensive damage totaling some 250 million euros ($325 million). 

In this picture from the 2002 flood, Eilenburg is completely flooded (photo: dpa/lth)

In this picture from the 2002 flood, Eilenburg is completely flooded

More room for the water

This time round, the Mulde once again flooded cities, like Grimma, or Dessau. But Eilenburg remained relatively dry. Here, the people learned from the 2002 disaster. "We built 6.5 kilometers [4 miles] of new dikes and the same length of new retaining walls," explained Heiko Leihe of the local town government. "We also sacrificed part of an industrial park. We moved some of the walls and dikes further away from the riverbanks so the Mulde would have more room." As a result of that, the flooded river was not as fast as eleven years ago and therefore less powerful, less destructive, he said.

Dike at Eilenburg (Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa)

This time round, the city fared a lot better

What Eilenburg did was exactly what environmentalists, experts and politicians had called for in recent years. But not everywhere did these recommendations get implemented. One reason might have been that the projects simply took too long, but another reason was that farmers or civic groups protested against such measures. "In Eilenburg we didn't have such problems, I've never heard of this here," says Otto, who plans to be open for business again in a few days.

7,000 people evacuated

That same sense of optimism also prevails a few houses down the street. That's where, in 2002, Heike Theinert had opened her office as a veterinarian when a few weeks later the water swept it all away. This time, the water reached 40 centimeters in the rooms on the ground floor. But Theinert is still full of praise for the local authorities. "I think the town was much better protected than in 2002," she explained.

Despite the improved protection, some 7,000 citizens still had to be evacuated when the flood came. It was just a precautionary measure. Since then, everyone has returned their homes and the damage is limited. "There were some 20 centimeters missing at the new wall," says Heike Theinert. But the people of Eilenburg are optimistic that improvements will continue on the walls and dikes. The next time the water comes they'll be even better protected, they hope, and might actually keep their feet dry.

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