Floods hit Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland

Five killed in Czech Republic and two dead in Austria amid fears of repeat of disaster in 2002

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 3:57am

Volunteers piled up sandbags to keep a swollen river from overwhelming the Czech capital's historic centre yesterday after floods across central Europe forced factories to close, drove thousands from their homes and killed at least seven people.

Five people were killed in the Czech Republic, where the flooding was the worst in a decade and a state of emergency was declared, while in Austria two people died and another two were missing.

The flooding also affected parts of Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

Carmaker Volkswagen temporarily shut its plant in Zwickau, in the eastern German state of Saxony, because the flooding stopped workers reaching the factory, and parts of the German town of Passau, at the confluence of the Danube and two other rivers, were flooded.

The last time central Europe saw similar floods was in 2002, when 17 people were killed in the Czech Republic, and damage estimated at €20 billion (HK$200 billion) was inflicted.

Officials in Prague, listed by the UN cultural agency as a World Heritage Site, said they did not anticipate the waters of the swollen Vltava River that runs through the centre of the city would reach the 2002 levels. But they were not taking chances. They shut the metro system, and in streets near the river, soldiers put up mobile metal fences - flood defences that were ordered after the disaster 11 years ago.

Elsewhere, volunteers built walls of sandbags.

The Charles Bridge, a favourite spot for tourists that dates to the 14th century, was closed. Tree trunks floated by in the muddy brown water. A riverside path that is below street level is usually populated with cyclists and people sitting at cafes, but it was under water yesterday.

"We left England yesterday, and it was sunny and warm. We didn't expect this, we don't even have our raincoats," said British tourist Alison Tadman, who was visiting Prague with her husband Adrian to celebrate her 47th birthday.

Instead, the couple were sheltering in a McDonald's restaurant. "We're pretty disappointed," she said.

Some of the worst flooding was around the Danube River, which starts in Germany and snakes its way through countries including Austria, Slovakia and Hungary on its way to the Black Sea. The river was swollen by heavy rain at the weekend. In Germany, the interior minister flew to flood-hit regions yesterday and Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel was preparing to go today, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

How Merkel's government responds to the emergency could influence the outcome of a nationwide election in September.

However, Seibert said: "It's perfectly normal the leader of the government would go to the region and see what is happening for herself."

Shipping was stopped on parts of the Danube and Rhine rivers in Germany - both important arteries for shipping grains, coal and other commodities.

Thousands of people living in low-lying areas in Austria and the Czech Republic had to be evacuated from their homes.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas declared a state of emergency on Sunday for most of his country.

The risk yesterday was that the flood danger could follow the course of the Danube River downstream to other European countries along its route.