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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Waters close in on Dresden treasures
Zwinger Palace
The Zwinger Palace was abandoned to its fate
The historic centre of the east German city of Dresden is in acute danger as the Elbe river continues to rise, causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Overnight, rescue teams had to abandon efforts to protect unique buildings and artefacts, as flood levels broke a 157-year high.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image
The river is continuing to rise faster than expected, at a rate of about 4 centimetres (1.6 inches) per hour.

All bridges in the city have been closed to non-emergency vehicles, and people are now being evacuated from areas close to the old town.

In nearby Meissen, compulsory evacuations have been ordered and downstream at Bitterfeld, Dessau and Magdeburg people are also being moved to safety.

Fourteen people have been killed across eastern Germany as waters surge northwards from the Czech Republic.

Towns north of Prague are still being battered by torrents of water, although the situation elsewhere has begun to ease.

Unprepared

Emergency teams tried in vain to protect Dresden's Semper Opera House and the Zwinger Palace - both already hit by a first wave of flooding earlier in the week - but abandoned their efforts in the early hours.

"Where should they be pumping the water to?" a spokeswoman for the regional interior ministry said.

In the early hours of the morning, the waters rose above the 1845 record high of 8.77 metres (28.8 feet) and are now reported to have reached 9.13 m (29.5 ft).

The city's contingency plans were drawn up with maximum levels of 8.17 m (26.8 ft) in mind, and the authorities are at a loss as to how to deal with such quantities of water.

Further rains overnight have only worsened the situation and more storms are forecast for the weekend.

'National catastrophe'

Evacuations have begun of residential districts close to the historic centre.

"At seven o'clock there was nothing, now the water is right across the street," said Heiko Megel.

About 10,000 people had already been evacuated from Dresden overnight, leaving parts of the city completely abandoned, the Interior Ministry for the Saxony region said.

Roadsign at Schillerplatz in Dresden
The waters are rising inexorably in Dresden
Across the region, almost 30,000 people have been moved from their homes since the flooding began.

The army is building a tent city to accommodate them and military helicopters delivered bread to cut-off residents.

Downstream, Bitterfeld is being evacuated after a flood barrier burst, sending water cascading towards the town.

About 20,000 people are being moved from Magdeburg, whose mayor has warned that he expects the town to be under 3 m (9.8 ft) of water by the weekend.

Brandenburg and even Hamburg on the North Sea coast are also braced for the onslaught of the floods.

Financial toll

The federal government made 100m euros available for the stricken regions on Friday - just the first tranche of what is expected to be a huge bill for the effects of the floods.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has described the situation as a national catastrophe, saying four million people have been affected.

Angel in Prague cemetery
Many of Prague's landmarks are still submerged
The BBC's James Coomerasamy in Dresden says that with elections being held in September, it is important that Mr Schroeder is seen to unblock funds to the disaster zones quickly.

The European Union has also offered its assistance and European Commission President Romano Prodi is visiting the Czech capital, Prague, on Friday to survey the damage there.

In Slovakia, there are hopes that the worst may have passed after the river Danube rose to its highest point and began to subside without causing extensive damage.

The Danube has already wrought havoc in Austria and southern Bavaria, where some cleaning-up efforts have already begun as the waters recede.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tristana Moore reports
"Since Tuesday the curator has been battling to save his priceless art collection"
The BBC's James Coomarsamy
"There are bridges now across the river Elbe which are virtually shut down"

European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?

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TALKING POINT
See also:

15 Aug 02 | Europe
13 Aug 02 | Entertainment
16 Aug 02 | Europe
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