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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Dresden under siege once more
A man negotiates Meissen, near Dresden, in a makeshift raft
For many, the return will be worse than the evacuation

Helga Schweizer waved a cheery goodbye to her neighbours in one of Dresden's seven completely flooded districts, climbed into the small boat ferrying her to safety and burst into tears.

She had been stranded for three days without electricity and with her food running out.

She had no television and that's bad when the waters are lapping around your kitchen sink and you need information.

"I've been here 41 years, and I never seen anything like this. And I'm far better off than other people. Let's hope it's over now."

Miserable experience

When she spoke, it was all but over.

Hundreds of volunteers build embankments with sandbags
Sandbags could not deal fully with water rising at 12cm an hour
The flood waters, which swelled the Elbe to five times its normal depth, had stopped pouring in and the situation was stabilising.

Even so, it will be days, perhaps weeks, before the authorities allow residents like Helga and the frail and infirm evacuated from the hospitals and old people's centres, back to their homes.

It is a miserable experience which will get no better in the coming days.

Many will be put up in makeshift camps in schools, shopping malls and community centres in dry areas nearby.

''They are frustrated, depressed and when they arrive they cry a lot," said one of the Red Cross volunteer workers who signed up to help the relief effort.

What they return to could be more of the same - only worse.


Nobody knows what the damage is exactly. It will be months and months to wait and millions and millions to pay

Zwinger Palace art curator Harold Marx

The volume of water swirling freely through the sewers and around the streets of Dresden defies belief.

It leaves its dirty trails everywhere, despite the efforts of thousands of volunteers, army personnel and relief workers to sandbag it.

At its height the water was advancing through the old town and other parts of the city at an average rate of 12 centimetres an hour.

The mess left behind will not be fully revealed until the waters subside.

Lovingly restored

The people here have been as concerned for their own properties as they are for the future of their historic buildings.

Zwinger Palace gallery, Dresden
Works of art are stacked on upper floors of the Zwinger Palace gallery
Many of the buildings have been lovingly and faithfully restored after being firebombed during World War II by the Americans and the British.

Harold Marx is the curator of the famous collection of Rembrandts, Rafaels and Botticellis, among others, at the 18th Century Zwinger Palace.

It, too, was badly damaged in the war. He says the biggest danger is to the buildings - not to the art works, which have been safely moved.

"Nobody knows what the damage is exactly. It will be months and months to wait and millions and millions to pay."

The fear for many, though, is that they will have to start the restoration all over again, just years after they finished the first.


European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?

FORUM

TALKING POINT
See also:

17 Aug 02 | Europe
16 Aug 02 | Europe
16 Aug 02 | Business
15 Aug 02 | Europe
17 Aug 02 | Europe
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