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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Prague starts massive clean-up
A tourist jumps over sandbags in the Old Town
Prague's historic Old Town was spared
The water levels are finally receding in Prague, after the worst floods in the Czech capital for 200 years.

While other areas of Europe are frantically preparing for fresh flooding, Prague is turning its attention to a massive clean-up operation.


When I close my eyes, I can still see the dark rushing water

Dana Rokosova
The city's historic Old Town has been spared, but the all-clear has yet to be given to the 40,000 city residents who were evacuated three days ago.

The floods devastated towns and villages across the Czech Republic. More than 200,000 people have had to leave their homes and at least 11 people have died.

Mammoth task

The Vltava river finally began to recede overnight, easing fears it could burst through the thousands of sandbags and other flood defences to reach the Old Town.

But Prague mayor Igor Nemec said: "There is nothing to cheer about. It will be days before people can come back home. We have a lot of work ahead."

Rhino being lifted to safety by crane
Prague zoo was flooded, and many animals had to be lifted to safety
Firefighters and volunteers worked throughout the night to reinforce barricades and pump water from the submerged areas.

Belgium, Denmark and Sweden have already donated specialist pumping equipment to help keep the waters at bay. The EU and other countries have also promised aid.

One of the many landmark buildings under threat is the National Theatre, where volunteers are frantically trying to remove water from the flooded basements.

Casualties of the floods included some of the inhabitants of Prague zoo. While 400 animals were rescued, others had to be destroyed, including an elephant, a hippopotamus and a bear.

Another problem for the Czech authorities is the leakage of chorine gas from the Czech chemical plant Spolana, after water from the flooded River Elbe damaged equipment in the factory.

Chlorine is dangerous and potentially fatal to humans if inhaled in high concentrations.

Officials say it will take at least a week to put a price on the overall damage, but it is expected to reach at least 60 billion crowns ($2bn), similar to the cost of a 1997 flood in the south of the country.

"There's a lot we can't see right now because things are still under water," Czech Deputy Culture Minister Zdenek Novak told Reuters news agency.

"We hope we don't lose anything, but at this point, we just don't know," he said.

Residents' ordeal

Local residents have begun to speak of their ordeal.

"When I close my eyes, I can still see the dark rushing water," said Dana Rokosova. "I'll never forget the smell."

Flooded Prague streets
The damage is likely to run into billions of dollars
Mrs Rokosova and her husband stayed in their two-room flat as long as possible, but were eventually forced to leave, like tens of thousands of others.

They have been staying in one of the make-shift shelters in the city's schools.

"See this?" Mrs. Rokosova said as she tugged at her hair. "See all that grey? It wasn't there the day before yesterday."

Prague's mayor, Igor Nemec, has warned the evacuated residents not to return to their homes yet, and many are set to spend another night in the shelters.

Some areas remain in a critical state, under several metres of water, and electricity and sewerage must be reconnected before homes will be safe again, the mayor said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sudworth
"The authorities have staged the biggest evacuation since the 2nd World War"
The BBC's Rob Broomby reports from Prague
"Now the worst appears to be over"
The BBC's Ray Furlong
"Prague's famous astronomical clock has stopped ticking after hundreds of years of service"

European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?

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TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Aug 02 | Europe
14 Aug 02 | Europe
13 Aug 02 | Business
13 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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