MUEHLBERG – Germany’s race to shore up dams on swollen rivers shifted to the north Friday while Hungary braced for a record flood surge as other central European regions began counting the cost of the deadly flooding.
Volunteers, rescuers and soldiers in northern German states feverishly piled up sandbags along the Elbe river which has already deluged vast stretches with seas of brown water from the Czech Republic to eastern Germany.
Hungarians reinforced dikes along the Danube through the night ahead of an expected record flood in the capital, Budapest, in Europe’s worst river flooding in over a decade that has forced mass evacuations and killed at least 12.
While the Danube had already reached record levels in western Hungary early Friday, Budapest was expected to bear the brunt after the weekend amid predictions the river would rise to more than double the level usual for the time of year.
“It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a statement after spending the night in a military barracks in the deluged western city of Gyor.
After days of flooding in southern and eastern Germany, more than 11,000 soldiers have been deployed to help.
German Chamber of Trade and Industry head Eric Schweitzer said in Friday’s Rheinische Post newspaper that in some regions the damage was expected to be greater than in the 2002 floods whose economic cost had amounted to 11 billion euros ($15 billion).
In the medieval city of Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt state, the Elbe surpassed record levels from historic flooding in 2002 Friday with worse still to come, according to officials.
Dozens of army and Red Cross jeeps and trucks were parked at the entry to Muehlberg, a town of 4,000 inhabitants in Brandenburg state, 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Berlin.
“We are afraid. But we must wait here for that to pass because we have animals,” Silke Christen, 47, who owns a horse-breeding business, told AFP.
Volunteers scrambled to fill sandbags as the Elbe reached 9.9 metres Friday, just 10 centimetres below the maximum the dykes are able to resist.
“As you can see, it’s urgent,” a soldier commented, while a firefighter described the situation as “tense”.
Little respite was in sight for residents of another Saxony-Anhalt city, Bitterfeld, visited Thursday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, where more residents fled to safety as a lake threatened to flood parts of the city.
In the historic eastern cities of Dresden and Halle, where 30,000 people were evacuated after recent days saw the highest water level in 400 years on a local tributary, as well as in Bavaria in the south, the water level was slowly falling.
After Merkel pledged aid of at least 100 million euros, another offer of help came from the region’s footballing heroes.
Bayern Munich which recently scored its own place in history by becoming the first German club to win the Bundesliga, German Cup and the Champions League in the same campaign, announced a charity match in aid of flood victims.
Czechs hit by the flooding that has claimed at least eight lives with five people still missing returned to their homes with mixed emotions — some in despair, others happy to have saved what they could.
Jiri Kozak, visibly moved, described how he managed to rescue his private zoo of 50 animal species including parrots, snakes, turtles and kangaroos in the southern village of Putim before the flood wave came.
“I was afraid many animals would die. I was telling myself I should apologise to them for having them here,” he told public Czech TV.
For some, the floods will only compound the damage from 2002.
“Many houses still don’t have facades because they haven’t repaired them since the last time,” Josef Mlejnek told Czech TV as he toured by motor boat the village of Horin, at the confluence of the swollen Vltava and Elbe rivers.
And in the northern city of Usti nad Labem where the Elbe spilled over flood defences into the city before peaking early Thursday, voluntary firefighters ran out of money for diesel and were relying on local donations.