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Flooding Hits Germany, Hungary

August 19, 2002

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DESSAU, Germany (AP) _ Flooding that has forced some 80,000 east Germans from their homes spread further through the region Monday, threatening to add to the misery as the country faced its biggest relief effort since World War II.

In Hungary, the Danube River peaked at a historic high in Budapest without causing major flooding after relief workers spent a frantic night bolstering dikes. The capital’s high flood walls, built at the turn of the last century, held off the floodwater in the city center, though one barrier gave way in a northern suburb.

Europe is wrestling with the aftermath of violent storms that swept the continent two weeks ago. German authorities reported three more deaths Monday, bringing the Europe-wide toll to at least 109.

To help foot the recovery bill, the German government said Monday it was delaying tax cuts planned for next year. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking after an emergency Cabinet meeting in Berlin, said the move would free up $6.8 billion.

As the swollen Elbe Rive swept north through Germany to the North Sea _ despite sunny weather over the country _ Dessau residents grabbed their belongings and fled waters that swamped part of the city after a dike gave way overnight. Military helicopters clattered overhead Monday, dropping sandbags to bolster the barrier.

Juergen von der Heydt, a Dessau city councilor whose home was flooded neck-deep, leaned on the wall of a half-submerged restaurant near his home in suburban Waldersee to catch his breath.

``What I’m wearing is all I’ve got,″ he said. ``I’ve been up for five days and nights and I haven’t managed to rescue anything.″

Dessau is home to a famed Bauhaus architecture school. Houses designed by the Bauhaus school’s master architects in Dessau were considered safe, city spokeswoman Christina Framke said.

Outside Wittenberg, where the Elbe broke through dikes on Sunday, rescuers used boats and ropes to bring several people trapped in their homes to safety. They also captured a sea lion that escaped from a zoo in the Czech capital, Prague, during the flooding and swam 150 miles to Germany.

Gaston, a 12-year old male, was caught by emergency workers near Wittenberg, said Vit Kahle, the Prague zoo’s spokesman. Gaston will be sent back home Tuesday.

The historic old city of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther launched the Reformation in 1517, was not under immediate threat, officials said.

In Magdeburg, 40 miles upstream from Dessau, authorities prepared to evacuate up to 20,000 of the 280,000 residents from their homes as the Elbe’s crest approached. Hundreds were evacuated from villages along the Elbe further north in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state.

A German government relief agency, the Technical Aid Service, said Monday that sandbags were running short, although Denmark shipped 650,000 sandbags to help.

Forecasters predicted generally dry weather for Austria and Germany over the next few days, with scattered showers over western Hungary. No heavy rainfall was expected.

The floodwater has ebbed in Austria and the Czech Republic and begun to fall in Dresden, the biggest German city hit so far, allowing the start of a massive cleanup and rebuilding operation expected to cost some $20 billion Europe-wide.

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla estimated overall flood damage there at about $2.8 billion, the CTK news agency reported Monday. The Vltava River, which flows through the capital of Prague, has dropped by more than 16 feet since Wednesday after the country’s worst flooding in 175 years.

Experts continued checking the safety of flood-damaged houses in Prague on Monday, a day after a collapsed apartment building prompted authorities to seal off parts of the capital.

Floodwaters swamped a cemetery where 10,000 Holocaust victims are buried at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic. Firefighters installed equipment to pump water from the graveyard.

The Austrian government Monday pledged an aid package of almost $1.5 billion in the aftermath of the floods.

Buildings damaged by flooding last week include Dresden’s famous Zwinger Palace museum, where a support wall collapsed Monday in the basement. The collapse was not expected to cause serious damage, said Martin Roth, managing director of the state art collections in Dresden.

In Budapest, where 2,000 people were evacuated Sunday, the river peaked at 28.3 feet in Budapest early Monday and then began falling, said Tibor Dobson, a spokesman for Hungary’s national disaster relief office. The 33-foot-high walls running along the river banks throughout much of the city contained the water.

Most evacuated towns lie north of Budapest. A few areas in the southern part of the capital also were evacuated _ areas where the flood walls do not rise as high as in the city center.

Update hourly