The Heat Is Online

Oder River Flood -- July, 1997

"Floods kill 32 people in Poland, Czech Republic"

WARSAW, July 10, 1997 -- (Reuter) - Floods in Poland and the Czech Republic unleashed by days of torrential rain have killed at least 32 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, civil defense officials said on Thursday.

In Poland, civil defense spokesman Captain Leszek Korpus said 20,000 had been evacuated and more would have to leave as flood tides on the Oder river hit the southwestern city Opole, swamping its old town and cutting off the left bank part.

``So far we have confirmed 15 drownings. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated but as the flood wave hits Opole, we can expect more will be forced to leave homes,'' Korpus said.

Deaths were reported in Walbrzych province, the Bielsko-Biala region, Opole, Nowy Sacz, Katowice and Jelenia Gora.

Korpus said 310,000 hectares (682 acres) of land were under water, including 10 towns and seven villages.

The situation was improving in the Legnica and Jelenia Gora regions but deteriorating along the Oder valley, threatening the major industrial cities of Katowice and Wroclaw.

Korpus said more than 15,000 firefighters, soldiers, border guards and policemen were involved in rescue efforts.

There were no damage estimates yet.

Flooding in the neighbouring Czech Republic, the worst this century,moved downstream on the Morava and Opava rivers to the southeast while easing in the stricken north, officials said.

Scores of soldiers, firemen and rescuers continued to evacuate thousands of people from downstream towns and villages in a disaster that had killed at least 17 people, the local news agency CTK said. Dozens of people were missing.

Houses were swept away as flood waters inundated the large cities of Ostrava, on the border with Poland, and Olomouc.

Flooding also affected the nearby countries of Slovakia and Austria.

Also:

"Flooding in the neighboring Czech Republic, the worst this century"

WARSAW, Poland -July 11, 1997 -- (Reuter) - Floods in the Czech Republic and south Poland had claimed 55 lives by Friday and thousands of people waited fearfully in the path of the raging waters.

As high water advanced down rivers toward communities hastily preparing flood defenses, both governments mustered funds to help victims rebuild shattered homes and lives.

``There are 365,000 hectares, (2,170 sq. miles) under water,'' Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told public radio in Poland, where 50 towns and 280 villages have already been hit by floods often reaching rooftops.

Although sun returned to the skies over southern Poland and waters receded in some areas, a swell swept north along the Odra river. Having swamped parts of Opole city, it bore down on the major center Wroclaw.

Emergency services sent sappers to blow up dykes south of Wroclaw to disperse excess water into the countryside before it hit the city, Private Radio Zet reported from the scene.

But in the village of Lany desperate farmers drove away the engineers with threats and removed the explosives, it said. In the Czech Republic the worst floods this century, reported to have claimed at least 32 lives, began moving south and almost one-third of the country was still in danger.

Troops and firemen were evacuating residents Friday from towns and villages downstream on the Morava and Opava rivers.

Anxious to avoid delay in rebuilding, the Czech parliament approved government requests Friday to approve the issue of up to $150 million of bonds to fund emergency relief, and also released five billion in privatization proceeds.

In Poland, where a national flood crisis committee spokesman said the death toll was 23, opposition critics accused the government of inadequate rescue and relief efforts. The issue threatened to hurt the main ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the party of former communists, facing a close fight against rightists grouped round the Solidarity trade union in parliamentary elections Sept. 21.

See Also: "With Nearly 100 Dead, Floods Keep Raging in Central Europe," The New York Times, July 21, 1997

Also:

"Historic Wroclaw fights floods ravaging Poland"

WARSAW, July 13, 1997 -- (Reuter) - As week-long floods ravaged much of Poland, killing at least 28 people, citizens of Wroclaw who built sandbag barriers through the night appeared on Sunday to have saved historic parts of their city.

``The (Old Town) square and the materially most precious part of Wroclaw were defended thanks to the great solidarity and enormous efforts of the people,'' a provincial government spokesman, Ludwik Ryng, told Reuters by telephone from Wroclaw.

Wroclaw was hit overnight by the high-point in a surge of water storming north along the Odra and Wisla rivers from the heavily flooded south of Poland, following days of downpours.

Ryng said a low-lying island with famous buildings and the university library housing priceless books -- including a vast German collection -- had largely been rescued from damage.

``The island was also protected thanks to efforts by people who even ran round with buckets baling water out,'' he added. A similar effort preserved the residential area of Biskupin but streets in the suburbs and much of the centre in the city of

650,000 people were turned into fast-flowing torrents.

Frantic work continued to contain the deluge as helicopters clattered overhead rescuing those stranded on high-rise blocks. Ryng said that due to the water system of Wroclaw, which until 1945 was the German city Breslau, the extensive damage would be less than in hosts of Polish towns and villages.

Other communities were still falling victim to the deluge, caused by torrential rain that brought the region's worst natural disaster in several centuries and also devastated great swathes of the neighbouring Czech Republic.

Even as waters receded further south, they left dozens of towns and hundreds of villages strewn with sewage, rubbish and dead farm animals, bereft of drinking water and power and often cut off from medical aid as the danger of disease grew.

Health officials broadcast warnings to hundreds of thousands of returning evacuees and survivors to clean everything, use bottled water and shun contaminated food.

Poles elsewhere brought gifts of soap, clothes, bread and blankets to collection points for transport south, but there were also reports on Polish radio of looting and profiteering.

Parliament's speaker called a meeting of its top leaders for Sunday evening to decide on calling an extraordinary sitting during the current summer recess.

Among other tasks, such a sitting could decide to amend the current year's budget to raise extra funds for flood relief, a move which the ex-communist Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on Friday was unnecessary for now.

But his party colleague, Interior Minister Leszek Miller said on Saturday it would be needed, estimating that relief and reconstruction would cost more than $1 billion, exceeding the roughly $200 million already earmarked for the purpose.

Poland is also looking for credits from international institutions including the World Bank. Official handling of the floods became an stormy issue in the approach to Poland's September 21 general elections as the opposition accused the government of incompetence -- charges rejected by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).