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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Hope 'in sight' for flooded Dresden
Old woman being evacuated from Dresden
More and more people are being evacuated
Floodwaters in the historic east German city of Dresden have peaked at record levels - suggesting the tide may be turning, officials say.


The turning point has apparently been reached

Interior Ministry spokesman

The River Elbe reached a level of 9.39 metres (31 feet) in the city on Saturday morning - the highest since records began in the 16th Century - before stabilising and beginning to recede slightly.

However, water levels continued to rise elsewhere, forcing the evacuation of more east German inhabitants, and sparking fears of a chemical spill in the town of Bitterfeld, home to a number of important chemical plants.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

In the Czech Republic, the situation was stabilising, but the swollen Danube was threatening the Hungarian capital, Budapest, even though flood defences were said to be good.

Floods have killed at least 90 people in Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic over the past week following torrential rains which sent a huge surge of water through river systems.

Worst floods in memory

Officials in Dresden said they were hopeful that water was beginning to recede to reveal the damage sustained by the city and its monuments, such as the Semper Opera and Zwinger Palace museum, restored after intensive allied bombing in 1945.

Mayor Ingolf Rossberg said the city was facing its greatest test since United States and British airplanes destroyed it during World War II.

People sit in front of the Semper Opera House in Dresden
The Semper Opera House is among Dresden's waterlogged treasures
"This is our most difficult time since February 1945," he said. "But there is now a silver lining in the cloud. We have a falling water level."

City officials said the water had fallen slightly to 9.36 metres, AP news agency reported.

With about 30,000 people forced to abandon their homes in Dresden, the local authorities have set up emergency accommodation in schools and shopping malls.

The evacuation of nearby towns on the River Elbe continues.

In Bitterfeld - which lies on the Mulde, a tributary of the Elbe - a spokeswoman for the local crisis centre said water was covering half the town. Helicopters have been bringing in fresh supplies to the 16,000 residents who have been evacuated, some forcefully.

The reason for the concern is a complex of chemical factories on the edge of town - the largest of its kind in eastern Germany, home to 350 different plants.
Dresden resident sitting on sandbags
Dresden residents have been piling sandbags
So far, however, the complex - which suspended or scaled back production earlier in the week - is said to be unaffected.

In Muehlberg, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Dresden, which has also been evacuated, sandbag defences gave way on Saturday.

Hamburg, the last major centre of population before the river flows into the North Sea, is also threatened.

The federal interior ministry says 4.2 million Germans are affected by the floods, the worst to hit central Europe in living memory.

Summit

Meanwhile, residents have started to return to their homes in the Czech capital, Prague, as floodwaters recede. However, about 200,000 people remained displaced throughout the country.

About 10,000 Czech soldiers have been deployed to assist the massive clean-up operation.

The Danube, which has already wrought havoc in Austria and southern Bavaria, is now threatening Budapest. Flood waters are lapping against the walls of the parliament building in the centre of the city, but the mayor has said the defences should hold unless the river reaches the 10-metre mark.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in northern and southern districts of the city and from villages on the shores of the river upstream, as volunteers and officials attempt to shore up the river banks.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is to host a summit on the floods on Sunday in Berlin with some of his central European colleagues.

Among those expected at the meeting are the prime ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as European Union Commission President Romano Prodi.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"This is now a military operation"
The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest
"Mostly people's holiday homes have been flooded"

European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?

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