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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Dresden fights rising waters
People paddle in a boat in the Mitte district of Dresden
More rains are predicted for Saturday
With flood levels at their highest for 157 years - and more rain predicted - people in Dresden are fighting to keep the water from doing even more damage to the east German city.

About 14 people have been killed across eastern Germany and thousands have now been forced to leave vulnerable parts of Dresden, which has been waterlogged by the swollen River Elbe.

People sit in front of the Semper Opera House in Dresden
The Semper Opera House will be closed for two months

The city's historic centre is thought to be in acute danger in the face of predictions that the water could rise further still, with huge efforts required to save unique buildings and artefacts.

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, will host a meeting on Sunday in Berlin with ministers from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, to discuss the floods.

Meanwhile, residents are beginning to return to their homes in the Czech capital, Prague, where flood waters are finally beginning to recede.

Endangered treasures

Dresden, which has been described as looking like a war zone, is a city submerged as waters rose above the 1845 record of 8.77 metres (28.8 feet) to a new high of 9.13 m (29.5 ft).

Water levels were expected to peak sometime on Saturday, and while forecasters predicted more rain, it was not expected to rival the amounts earlier in the week that spurred the flooding.

It hurts so much that all this is endangered by the water

Sonja Beyer

Some 30,000 have already been evacuated from the city, part of the 100,000 who have fled their homes in other areas threatened by the flow of the River Elbe.

The River Elbe is swollen by torrential rain that has caused floods, claiming more than 80 lives across central Europe.

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.

In Prague, some residents have been allowed back to their homes - and are now busy clearing up layers of thick mud.

Much of the historic part of the city is still closed, including Charles Bridge.

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

Sorrowful but stoic

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 early on Friday.

The cellars of the ornate Zwinger palace - rebuilt under communist rule and home to one of Europe's great art collections, including Raphael's Sistine Madonna - have been swamped.

Fortunately most of the art treasures were removed in time.

The adjacent Semper Opera House will be closed for at least two months, and the government said it was offering 300 million euros in emergency aid to help repair damage to such buildings.

Dresden residents, many of whom lived through wartime air raids which killed tens of thousands, are said to be sorrowful but stoic.

"It hurts so much that all this is endangered by the water," said Sonja Beyer, 72.

Dresden resident sitting on sandbags
Dresden residents have been piling sandbags

"It's the art treasures that give Dresden its flair."

Downstream, thousands of residents in Bitterfeld and Magdeburg are being evacuated and even Hamburg on the North Sea coast is also braced.

Mr Schroeder has described the situation as a national catastrophe, with damage worth billions of euros.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"This disaster has delivered a double sadness for Dresden"

European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?


See also:

16 Aug 02 | Europe
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15 Aug 02 | Europe
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