Thousands of Hungarians feverishly worked through the night reinforcing dykes along the banks of the swelling Danube River, as Budapest braced for what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban predicted would be record floods.
Europe’s worst river floods in more than a decade have already wreaked devastation in parts of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, and in Hungary, the Danube had risen to record levels early yesterday morning.
“It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time,” Orban, who spent the night at a military barracks in the deluged western city of Gyor, was quoted as saying in a statement.
Budapest is expected to be worst hit on Monday, with forecasters saying the river will rise to as high as 8.85m, more than double the levels usually seen at this time of year and some 25cm higher than the last record set in 2006.
Orban said that recent rain-free days in Austria and Germany, as well as dry, hot weather forecast in Hungary over the weekend gave reason for hope that the worst may soon be over.
The floods have killed at least 12 people and have forced mass evacuations across central Europe.
In southern Germany, water levels have largely stabilized following massive flooding as the crest of swollen rivers has moved north, but many communities remain under water.
The military said yesterday it has 11,300 soldiers in seven German states building sandbag barriers and monitoring floodzones to ensure levees and dams are holding.
The Elbe River crested on Thursday in the Dresden, sparing the historic city center but engulfing wide areas of the Saxony capital.
In the south, the Bavarian city of Deggendorf was hit by a third levee break on Thursday, with floods gushing into neighborhoods.
“It’s indescribably bad,” Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer said upon visiting the area.
In nearby Bitterfeld, authorities were trying to find ways to lower waters threatening the city, after blowing open two levees failed to lessen the pressure on flood defenses.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Bitterfeld, promised swift help to those hit by the floods.
In the Czech Republic, firefighters said about 700 Czech villages, towns and cities have been hit by flooding and about 20,500 people evacuated. In the country’s north, the Elbe reached its highest level and began to recede on Thursday.
In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, the Danube was still rising from the record levels it reached a day earlier, but authorities said protective barriers have held firm so far.
Additional reporting by AP