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Dresden Threatened By Rising Waters

By Stefan Bos     Aug 17, 2002 in Technology
BUDAPEST (voa) - Tens of thousands of people spend the night in shelters after they were evacuated from the eastern German city of Dresden on Friday, where record floods that already killed close to 100 people across Central and Eastern Europe are swamping its Baroque architecture.
The situation is also serious in other Central and Eastern European cities, including the Hungarian capital Budapest.
Volunteers in Dresden desperately working to shore up dikes seemed to lose their struggle against the Danube river, which rose to levels not seen since 1845.
After days of battles against the water, the local fire brigade finally gave up its fight to stop flooding in the theater plaza. Eyewitnesses said water bubbled up Friday from overflowing sewers through manhole covers on the picturesque square. And the basement of the famous Semper opera filled with 2.5 meters of water.
Thousands of emergency workers and volunteers piled up sandbags to at least protect famous architectural landmarks such as the Zwinger palace, the Semper opera and the cathedral.
The record flood came as a tragedy for Dresden, which was reduced to rubble at the end of World War II and only began reconstructing historic buildings a decade ago after German reunification.
Dresden, located 200 kilometers south of Berlin, is also the capital of the region Saxony where the authorities say 10 people died in severe flooding.
Local officials warned that the population may now be forced to start rebuilding their lifes and historic monuments again from scratch, and they urged the central Government to help raise the billions of dollars necessary to make this possible.
The German Insurance Association says that just nine per cent of German home owners have the right insurance policies to cover these natural disasters.
Other regions are also suffering. While the evacuated population in the Czech capital Prague is slowly returning and assessing the multi-billion-dollar damage caused by the floods, neighboring Slovakia and Hungary are on high alert for new floods there.
In the Hungarian capital Budapest and surrounding area's, the government has already declared a state of emergency.
Rescue workers and residents tried to shore up dikes with sand backs, but by late friday it was already too late for the historic district known as "Romai part", named after ruiners dating back to Roman empire and famous for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tennis tournaments.
Several streets turned into rivers, and residents had to reach their homes by boats. Others living slightly further from the Danube river tried to use the sand backs they received from the local authorities to protect their home.
"We are putting the sand in the sacks and are placing it around our house," explains 16-year-old Adam Bodor, who is helping his father and mother to protect their two store family home.
He noted that all family and friends are helping in the effort. "We are preparing for the worse," he added.
While the authorities still believe most dikes will hold, a cloudburst and severe thunder storm made matters worse late Friday. One of Budapest's main international railway stations was without electricity and several tram and train lines closed, as more than 1,000 people were evacuated.
The Danube river, which separates the Buda and Pest areas of the Hungarian capital, totally submerged main roads after the river broke its banks, threatening several luxury hotels on the famous Margaret Island as well as coming closer to the Parliament building.
Navigation on the Danube was brought to a halt in Hungary after similar steps were taken in Austria and Slovakia, where authorities have already declared a state of emergency in Bratislava, the Slovak capital.
Expert Tamas Torok, who coordinates flood prevention efforts in part of Budapest, said the river is expected to rise to a new record level by Sunday.
More about Flood, Dresden, Prague