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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK
Menacing Danube rises in Budapest
View of the Hungarian parliament
The city's defences are 10 metres high
In Hungary, the river Danube has broken record levels along 170 kilometres (110 miles) of its length and is expected to peak in Budapest in the early hours of Monday morning.

So far the city's defences continue to hold and the authorities are cautiously optimistic that the catastrophic flooding experienced elsewhere in the region will be avoided.

Thousands of soldiers and volunteers have been working frantically to reinforce the defences. About 2,000 people have been evacuated.


Fortunately our forefathers were wise enough to plan and build these banks in very good quality

Gabor Demszky
Mayor of Budapest
Water levels on the River Elbe in Germany are finally receding in Saxony and its capital Dresden, but more people have been evacuated in towns downstream in neighbouring Saxony-Anhalt.

The European Union has pledged to release funds to assist the countries affected.

Commission President Romano Prodi made the announcement at a meeting in the German capital, Berlin, of leaders of four of the countries worst affected.

Nearly 100 people have now died in the floods, and the clean-up bill is expected to run into billions of dollars.

Mayor confident

Nervous townspeople in Budapest have been working around the clock to reinforce sandbag defences, and the BBC's Nick Thorpe says they are getting tired.

The flow of the Danube appeared to speed up on Sunday evening as the water reached a height of 8.49 meters (28.3 feet) , breaking the previous record of 8.45 meters (27.7 feet) set in 1965. Meteorologists said the river was likely to crest at 8.6 meters (28.7 feet) at dawn Monday - lower than previous predictions.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image
Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy returned from holiday for an emergency session of the government, which pledged more money for flood defences.

But Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said his city would escape the devastation suffered by some German and Czech cities.

"Budapest will not be in the situation of Passau, Prague or Dresden," he told Reuters news agency.

"Fortunately our forefathers were wise enough to plan and build these banks in very good quality in the second half of the 19th century."

However, our Budapest correspondent says that once the river peaks, the danger will be of a different nature - not that the waters pour over the city's defences, but that they seep through or under them, undermining the efforts of the past week.

German woes

Flood waters in the east German city of Dresden peaked at record levels of 9.39 metres on Saturday - the highest since records began in the 16th century - before stabilising and falling below the 9-metre-mark.

However, water levels continued to rise elsewhere, forcing the evacuation of nearby towns on the River Elbe and its tributaries.

Thousands were evacuated from around the town of Wittenberg, the latest in a series of communities to be hit.

Volunteers shoring up defences in the town of Bitterfeld
In the German town of Bitterfeld they fear a chemical leak
And a military operation is in full swing in Bitterfeld, home to a large complex of chemical factories. Half of the town is under water and people are desperate to stop any chemicals from the complex from flowing into the River Mulde.

Army helicopters are constantly ferrying supplies for those trying to build the dam to block up the river.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy says people there are still in a state of shock and are concerned about what might happen to their town.

Residents have started to return to their homes in the Czech capital, Prague, where a massive clean-up has begun as flood waters recede. But they have been warned to stay away until tests are carried out to ascertain the safety of flooded buildings.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fiona Werge
"There seems no end in sight to these floods"
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"There have been frantic efforts to get all the people out"

European havoc

Germany ravaged

Prague drama

Freak phenomenon?

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TALKING POINT
See also:

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