Europe

THE FLOOD OF AGES

Rivers rise to record highs, causing death and widespread destruction

BARBARA WICKENS August 26 2002
Europe

THE FLOOD OF AGES

Rivers rise to record highs, causing death and widespread destruction

BARBARA WICKENS August 26 2002

THE FLOOD OF AGES

Europe

Rivers rise to record highs, causing death and widespread destruction

BARBARA WICKENS

FOR SEVERAL frantic days, thousands of emergency workers and volunteers piled up sandbags in hopes of protecting Prague from the rising waters of the rainswollen River Vltava. In addition to the lives at stake—some 50,000 residents were evacuated—the historic centre of the Czech city, which many consider to be the most beautiful capital in Europe, was threatened. In the end the flood, which officials described as the worst in the city’s 800-year history, spared the 13th-century Old Town Square. Still the Vltava, which crested some 7.25 m above its normal

summer levels, spilled over the embankments into the medieval Mala Strana district beneath Hradcany Castle, once home to Bohemian kings.

Similar calamitous scenarios were repeated throughout central and eastern Europe and Russia as two weeks of heavy rain unleashed massive flooding, especially along the Elbe (into which the Vltava flows), Mulde and Danube rivers and their tributaries. By week’s end the rains were mostly over, but more than 100 people were dead. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes, including Aus-

trians, Slovaks and Germans, as well as Czechs. The torrents of water swept away crops, modern infrastructure and centuries-old architecture alike, causing billions of euros in damage.

As residents of Prague started to clean up, others elsewhere prepared for the worst. In Dresden, in southeast Germany, the Elbe surpassed its flood record set in 1845. Volunteers battled to protect the city’s cultural treasures, including moving thousands of works of art from the Zwinger Palace, home to one of Europe’s great collections, to higher levels. fiil