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Czech Republic: Moravian Floodwaters Recede

Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic; 16 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - On the main square of the historic southeastern Moravian town of Uherske Hradiste, shopkeepers and sales personnel, wearing rubber boots and gloves, are hard at work scrubbing down their muddied floors and throwing out groceries and other goods damaged or tainted in last week's flood.

Compared to the devastating damage further north that claimed more than 30 lives, the Morava River flood that hit this town was moderate, but enough to leave about 60 families homeless.

At its height, the flood water was about a meter deep on the main square, destroying goods below that level, in stores, ground-floor apartments and basements. And, the damage to water and communications services is great. Mayor Ladislav Supka says he has no intention of allowing 9,000 residents, who were ordered to evacuate their homes last week, to return until those services and public hygiene have been restored. And, that, he says, might not be for another ten days.

"I'm afraid of a premature return of people, because the water in those basements constitutes the greatest danger of some infection," Mayor Supka says, adding he would be very happy if people move back, only after all the basements have been pumped dry and disinfected. The Mayor says a variety of material from nearby flooded petro-chemical factories have been spread by the floodwaters, creating a public health hazard.

At the town's culture center a crowd of people who refused calls to evacuate, wait patiently in line for bread, water and baby food. A faintly cheesy, sour smell is pervasive in the central square, where a Romany woman with her grandchildren walks up to a large trash bin full of spoiled groceries from a nearby market. The children jump in, and ignoring posted warnings from health officials and the shocked stares of onlookers, the children pick through the goods and toss their grandmother mud-covered containers of yogurts, cheeses and juices, which she then stuffed into a large bag.

Mayor Supka has ordered a night-time curfew, after looters in boats burglarized a home. Police have detained two men. The men, who police said carried an unusual assortment of tools, were loitering around town during the first night of a flood-induced blackout. The Mayor says the curfew is being enforced, and adds that the Interior Ministry this week deployed state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to keep watch.

Mayor Supka's apartment building was among those flooded and remains off limits. He has been sleeping in his office in a sleeping bag for the past week - with tall rubber boots and thick socks at the ready by the door.

Less than an hour before the waters of the Morava surged into the main square last week, Czech Republic Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus arrived in town on a flood-inspection tour. Mayor Supka says he has heard reports that Klaus was in town, but never actually saw him.

The first government flood-relief financial aid arrived at town hall yesterday, brought by a district official. The amount was 200,000 crowns in cash (about $6,000) for aid to those families - in Supka's words - left without funds or even a roof over their heads, and no where to return to. He estimates that about 60 families were left homeless, and that this is just the first of what he says will be about seven-million crowns (about $210,000) that will be made available in the district. He says the money is not yet accessible, since banks in the district have not yet reopened.

Meanwhile, the district's only hospital - evacuated during the high water - has not yet resumed operation.