By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Bosnewslife
PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in parts of Central and Eastern Europe have issued disaster warnings as heavy rain has caused flooding that left several people dead or missing.
The situation seemed especially serious in the Czech Republic where Prime Minister Petr Necas said already “200 soldiers have been deployed so far” to help local authorities in the capital Prague and other areas.
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Flood barriers were erected in Prague for the first time since 2002, when the capital was crippled, with whole districts under water and animals drowned in the local zoo.
Fire fighters and security forces could be seen seen placing metal walls along the Vltava river to prevent this city of 1.3 million people from flooding. Czech troops desperately tried to protect Prague’s historic center, a UNESCO heritage site boasting hundreds of well-preserved buildings, churches and monuments dating back mostly to the 14th Century, including the Charles Bridge that straddles the Vltava.
They also began evacuating Prague’s Francis Hospital and other sites following a new heavy downpour in the city and across the nation.
Authorities warned thousands of people could be forced to evacuate in Prague and Interim Mayor Tomas Hudecek said parts of the capital’s crucial subway system may be closed. “Due to the current situation, I have declared a state of danger for the area of the capital city,” added acting mayor Tomas Hudecek.
Elsewhere in the country, including in the northern town of Hostinne, rescuers used helicopters to save local people. But for some help came to late. Among the victims was a woman in Trebenice, near Prague, who was reportedly found dead in the rubble after a summer cottage collapsed due to the raging water.
Several other people were missing and rising rivers forced evacuations, highway closures and the shutting of rail lines throughout western and southern Bohemia regions.
Residents recalled floods in 2002 that killed 17 people, forced tens of thousands from their homes, drowned animals of the city’s zoo and caused several billion dollars of damage across Prague alone.
Following that disaster, the Czech government spent $150 million to install an anti-flooding system, but it remained unclear Sunday, June 2, whether enough had been done to prevent another catastrophe.
In Germany, where at least four people have died or are missing, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised federal support for affected areas and said the army would be deployed if necessary.
Several cities including Chemnitz in the east, and Passau and Rosenheim in the south, issued disaster warnings. Officials said Passau, located at the confluence of three rivers, could see waters rise above record level of 2002.
Large stretches of the Rhine, Main and Neckar rivers have been closed to ship traffic. Evacuations are also taking place in neighboring Austria and Switzerland.
The Danube and other Austrian rivers have flooded, swamping entire villages, with some houses covered to the first floor, witnesses said. The fire brigade worked overnight to pump out cellars and important infrastructure buildings and to keep the roads clear. An electric power station was reportedly under water in the Austrian town of Salzburg.
In neighboring Hungary, authorities in the capital Budapest reported flooding in some areas, including an underground garage near Parliament, with massive flooding expected Tuesday, June 4, when the lower embankment of the rising Danube was expected to be under water.
Meteorologists were predicting the rainfall will ease in the coming days, but that announcement did little to ease rescue workers battling the rising rivers across the region.
It comes at a time of concerns about ailing infrastructure in especially cash-strapped Eastern Europe, which has seen heavy flooding in the past.
Floods along with droughts and forest fires – all of which are cross-border hazards – are among the main risks for especially South Eastern Europe, said the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) earlier this month.
The UNISDR has suggested that “climate change and variations could lead to more frequent and severe disasters related to weather, water and climate in the region.” Yet, some skeptical scientists and politicians, including former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, have raised doubts about the evidence for global warming. (With additional reporting from the region).
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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