20 August 2002
Twenty thousand people in the city of Magdeburg have been spared the worst of Germany's floods and officials have decided not to evacuate them after all. The flooding is still threatening other regions of Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
It was touch and go Monday evening as the flood peak on the River Elbe swept towards Magdeburg after causing huge losses in Dresden and other cities upstream.
Teams of helpers had been working day and night to protect the banks of the swollen river with hundreds of thousands of sandbags as the peak swept towards Magdeburg faster and earlier than previously expected.
The authorities considered moving about 20,000 people out of the vulnerable areas of the city but when the peak came the city was spared the damage and the mass evacuations visited on other cities in the Czech Republic and Eastern Germany.
The river peaked at 6.7 meters, still a record, but nearly 30 centimeters lower than expected.
Officials said some of the flood had been diverted over an emergency dam to the east of Magdeburg.
Villages outside the city are still threatened however, after one of the dikes on the artificial waterway gave way and workers are trying hard to repair it before more flooding ensued.
But while Magdeburg is breathing a little easier Tuesday, the city of Wittenberg, is still struggling with massive floods caused at the weekend when the river breached its dikes.
Further upriver, there are fears that chlorine and other chemicals may have spilled into the Elbe from plants in the Czech Republic.
Dresden is slowly beginning the long cleanup from the foul mixture of floodwaters and waste from sewage plants that poured through the city.
The government and the insurance companies are calculating the cost of the disaster in the billions of Euros and thousands of lost jobs.
On Monday, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced nine billion euros will be earmarked to deal with the catastrophe, but more money may be needed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
And the flooding is not over yet. The Elbe still has to pass through more of Germany on its way to the city of Hamburg and the sea.
Further south and east, the swollen Danube River continues to cause flooding in Austria and Hungary with a threat of further trouble downstream in Yugoslavia. And new storms are causing problems in Austria, Romania and France.