Cities in Germany and the Czech Republic were scrambling yesterday to stave off potential disaster as a flood wave headed north, sending thousands of people fleeing their homes.
Hungary has also declared a state of alert as waters surge in the mighty Danube, which is also threatening cities in Austria.
In the Czech Republic, where eight people have already perished in the floods, thousands of households in the north were without power, gas and drinking water.
Several cities in the north of the Czech Republic and eastern Germany were threatened by the surging waters of the Elbe River after torrential rains across swathes of central Europe.
In the German city of Dresden, near the Czech border, several hundred people have been evacuated as water levels in the Elbe were forecast to reach up to 9m.
“I had to sleep at my grandma’s house and my mom stayed with a friend,” one boy said as he helped shift sand bags in Dresden.
Across the Czech Republic, more than 19,000 people have been evacuated since the floods began, firefighters’ spokeswoman Nicole Zaoralova said.
Water levels in the Elbe were expected to peak in the Czech industrial city of the Usti nad Labem yesterday, Povodi Labe water company spokesman Jiri Petr said.
The rising river has already forced 3,700 people from their homes in Usti nad Labem, which lies about 30km from the German border, and flooded the local railway station.
The water levels expected in Usti nad Labem are close to those recorded in 2002 when massive flooding swept central Europe, killing 17 people in the Czech Republic alone. They are also threatening major chemical factories, including one that released toxic chemicals into the Elbe during the 2002 floods. The plants have been shut down as a precaution and chemicals removed, authorities said. Czech public TV said a barrier that protects one chemical plant in Lovosice was leaking yesterday and it was not immediately clear if it might be completely flooded.
Czech police were still searching for four missing people.
From Usti, the mass of water will head downstream to eastern Germany, where cities on the Elbe, including Dresden and Magdeburg, are bracing for the flood.
In Magdeburg, authorities declared a state of emergency and said they expected the river, normally at 2m, to rise to almost 7m — higher than in 2002.
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 100 million euros (US$130 million) in emergency aid for flood-ravaged areas.