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NATO Gen. Tours Hungary Floods

April 19, 2000

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ NATO’s outgoing commander canceled several high-level meetings on his final visit to Hungary on Wednesday to tour flood operations in the country’s central region.

Gen. Wesley Clark canceled appointments with Hungary’s foreign and defense ministers on his farewell visit to travel to the Tisza River region, where water levels have surpassed predictions, reaching 34 feet.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban also canceled his appointments to stay in Szolnok, 50 miles southeast of Budapest, state-run radio reported Wednesday.

``We have declared a state of emergency for the whole length of the Tisza and the critical days are still ahead,″ state-radio quoted Orban as saying from Szolnok, the major city along the Tisza.

Evacuations ordered the previous day continued Wednesday in three villages along the river, while partial evacuations were ordered in 68 additional flood-threatened communities.

Such water levels normally occur only once in 500 years, the Interior Ministry said.

The floods in central and eastern Hungary started early this month and the flood alert is expected to last another 10 days.

Orban said Wednesday the money the government earmarked for flood prevention, $137 million, should be enough, but ``more will be raised if necessary.″

According to the latest figures, there are 23,480 people, including 2,600 soldiers, working on reinforcing dikes at 232 settlements. More than 8 million sandbags have been used in efforts so far.

After a shortage of bags was reported Tuesday, the Tisza Chemical Works announced it switched its total productive capacity to manufacturing the special bags to fill with sand.

The most critical embankments along the Tisza and its tributaries totaled 1,296 miles in length.

Flood prevention activities are costing the country $3 million a day, Orban said.

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