Sunday, as a dam on the swollen Elbe River broke, thousands of Germans were forced to evacuate their homes. Flood waters were diverted in an attempt to spare towns, but that has left hundreds of acres of farmland under water. Weather forecasters are calling for yet further rain, according to Reuters.
Magdeburg, one of eastern Germany’s oldest cities, was one of the cites which were the most effected by the rising flood waters. Approximately 23,000 people were forced to evacuate. Water levels in the Elbe River rose to a record 7.48 meters, or about 5 meters above normal. This surpassed the previous record level caused by the floods of 2002.
“We hope that the dykes will withstand the pressure over the coming days, but we can’t be 100 per cent sure,” said fire brigade spokesman Andreas Hamann, one of 1200 emergency staff working around the clock in the area.
Magdeburg lies downriver from where the Saale river spills into the Elbe. A dam at where the River Elbe and the River Saale meet up, to the south of Magdeburg, burst despite attempts to stabilize it.
A dike was also breached, and a crisis unit said the high waters were likely to put further pressure on dikes in coming days. The disaster has created a water surge a record 40 kilometers long.
Central Europe’s worst floods in a decade also threaten Hungary and have caused havoc in Austria the Czech Republic.
Vast areas of Germany have been turned into a brown water world by the flood waters. There has been a mass mobilization of emergency workers which have caused billions of euros in damage. One MP has termed the disaster a “national catastrophe.”
On Sunday, rescue helicopters could be seen patrolling the flood zone, and military armored personnel carriers rumbled throughout the effected areas, searching for victims of the burst dam and rising flood waters. Thousands of troops, firefighters and volunteers were frantically building up flood defenses with sandbags to try to stop the flood waters from effecting an even wider area of Germany.
“We helped yesterday to carry sandbags to secure the town. The mood is very depressed and frightened because many people have to leave their homes,” stated resident Liane Nagen.
According to officials, more than 8,000 people were evacuated by bus from towns and villages around Aken, south of Magdeburg. Some of the evacuees took their pets or farm animals with them.
Also, more than 36,000 people were evacuated across Saxony-Anhalt, while in Brandenburg, a largely rural state that surrounds the capital Berlin, some residents were evacuated and the flooding of uninhabited areas was planned to try to relieve the tension on the dykes that has been caused by the flood waters.
The floods have killed at least 18 people across central Europe, including 10 in the Czech Republic.
According to the Cologne Institute for Economic Research,the damage from the floods in Germany could amount to more than 6 billion euros ($7.93 billion).
100 million euros ($130 million) in aid for flooded areas has been promised by Chancellor Angela Merkel. She faces an upcoming election in September. Her response to this disaster will likely be on the minds of voters in Germany when the head to the voting booths.
Merkel said: “We’ll do everything humanly possible when it comes to reconstruction. Germany is sticking together in an admirable way at the moment and it should stay like that.”
Unlike her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Peer Steinbrueck, who told German state television on Sunday he would not get involved in a “rubber boot competition,” Merkel has been seen visiting flooded regions and speaking to victims and helpers.
The election will be on September 22, 2013. How the two candidates respond to this catastrophe could be the deciding factor as to who ultimately winds up elected.
During the floods of 2002, decisive crisis management by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder gave him a boost in the polls which helped him win a second term.
Written by: Douglas Cobb