A hard lesson learned
Thursday, 06 June 2013 09:18

IN SPITE of alarming pictures from the Czech capital (see above) improved flood prevention measures look set to hold in Prague and fears of catastrophic flooding are subsiding. Yet elsewhere in the country and the region rivers continued to rise today.

Particularly badly hit is the northern Czech city of Ústí nad Labem, where the river Labe (Elbe in German) peaked overnight on June 5th. The industrial hub of 100,000 sits near the German border and riverside neighbourhoods remain underwater. Some 3,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. All told eight have died and 19,000 evacuated across the country. "Unfortunately it is still not over," said Petr Nečas, the Czech prime minister.

Mr Nečas’s government has released 5.3 billion Czech crowns ($27m) to aid recovery and reconstruction efforts. Earlier this week several central Prague metro stations were closed, as was one of the city’s landmarks, the Charles Bridge. The city’s sewer treatment plant was shut down, meaning untreated waste water flowed directly into the Vltava river. Some 300 soldiers were deployed in the capital to construct temporary flood barriers along the banks of the Vltava. Those barriers remain, but the biggest risk appears to have passed.

The atmosphere recalled the devastating 2002 floods when much of central Prague was submerged causing billions of dollars in damage to the historic city centre. In the aftermath of the 2002 floods tens of millions of dollars were spent on additional food preventions measures in Prague. In recent days water levels were about half what they were 11 years ago. Public officials insist the upgrades helped prevent flooding – including temporary barriers, new pumps and regular drill sessions for city emergency workers – and claim the city is now capable of withstanding even harsher conditions. The relative smooth dealings in the Czech capital are all the more remarkable given City Hall remains in political turmoil in the wake of the mayor’s ouster late last month.

Elsewhere in the region risk remains. Just upriver from Ústí nad Labem is the German city of Dresden, which also was heavily damaged in the 2002 floods. While parts of the city were indeed flooded and several hundred people were evacuated from their homes, the city centre looks like it will be spared the worst of the rising waters. Waters that flooded the southern Bavarian town of Passau – where water reached the highest level in five centuries – have moved further down the Danube.

The 2002 floods are remembered throughout Central Europe, as they affected the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Romania and elsewhere. In the Slovak capital of Bratislava the level of the Danube is expected to surpass the 2002 high-water mark. “We are prepared to fight the water on the level at which it was in 2002,” Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, said earlier this week. While flood prevention measures in Bratislava look set largely to hold, the river is expected to peak at an all time high on June 6th. In the early morning hours today, 22 residents of Bratislava’s Devín neighbourhood were evacuated as there were fears a bridge accessing the area would become impassable, thus completely cutting off residents from the rest of the city. A decades -old contentious and still incomplete damn project shared by Hungary and Slovakia regulates Danube water levels and has helped prevent catastrophic flooding in both Budapest and Bratislava on several occasions.

The European Commission has pledged help for regions affected by the floods. Even as the damage appears severe, lessons from 2002 translated into more robust flood prevention in much of the region. Things could have been much worse.

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source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/economist/QxiO/~3/HqeaosNh11c/central-european-floods


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