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Floods push Oder River to record high; Poland orders more evacuations

July 27, 1997

FRANKFURT AN DER ODER, Germany (AP) _ Floodwaters that broke through a dike and submerged villages last week poured back into the swollen Oder River on Sunday, raising levels downstream to record highs and forcing evacuations.

Officials ordered the 17,000 people in the Polish border city of Slubice _ just across the water from Frankfurt an der Oder _ to evacuate again for fear the river would break through the dike.

To the north, about 15,000 people on the German side were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of sandbaggers worked furiously to prevent a new tear in the weakening dike from worsening.

``The war is not yet won,″ said Brandenburg state’s governor, Manfred Stolpe.

The north-flowing Oder, which forms a natural border between Poland and Germany, started flooding about three weeks ago after heavy rains in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Breaks in the 100-mile-long dike, 50 miles east of Berlin, turned a low-lying village region into a small lake last week.

Early Sunday, that water broke through the dike again and started flowing back into the river, raising the water level in Frankfurt an der Oder to a record high of about 21 feet.

That was only 1.5 inches from the top of the dike. Workers were filling new sandbags to make it taller.

Interior Minister Manfred Kanther said a special military plane was dispatched Sunday to take X-ray photos of the dikes to help experts assess their stability.

Camera-equipped Tornado fighters were also being sent to take aerial photos of the flood region.

In Poland, however, officials feared their dike would not hold and ordered residents to leave. Some people had just returned to their homes after being ordered to evacuate last weekend because of the first wave of flooding.

Those determined to stay in their homes had to sign a government statement saying they were doing so at their own risk.

Slubice Mayor Martin Jablonsky estimated about 2,000 people were still in the city.

``The situation is tragic,″ rescue worker Lidia Markindorf told Radio Zet. ``We want to evacuate everybody because the stability of the dikes is very uncertain.″

Elsewhere in Poland, the situation was improving.

About half of the 3,000 people evacuated two weeks ago from the historic city of Wroclaw were returning to their homes and beginning the nasty task of cleaning up. For the first time since the floods, residents were able to use tap water.

The floods _ Central Europe’s most deadly in 200 years _ killed about 100 people in Poland and neighboring Czech Republic.

About 5 million acres are still under water, said government spokesman Krzysztof Pomes. The latest evacuations bring the number of homeless Poles to about 50,000.

Poland’s post offices and railways were shipping donated supplies to flood-affected regions free of charge. Poles have responded to requests for donations with money, food, clothing, furniture and appliances.

In Germany, insurance companies estimated the damage so far at more than $555 million. But state officials said environmental damage caused by pollutants in the water, such as heating oil, could send the bill even higher.

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