Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland/Czech Republic: Flood Weary Towns Escape Second Deluge

Klodzko, 22 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Polish town of Klodzko has spent the last days tensely watching its river rise but, like hundreds of other flood-damaged communities in Poland and the Czech Republic, it so far has escaped a feared second round of disastrous flooding.

Last weekend brought intense showers in the two countries' mountainous borderland, raising fears of a new overflow of the rivers which two weeks ago inundated a tenth of Poland and a third of the Czech Republic. In the southeastern Czech Republic cities remain on alert today, while in eastern Germany the swollen Oder river continues to threaten cities near the Polish border.

But since the weekend, an easing of rain in the mountains has brought new hope to many flood-weary communities that the worst of what they experienced earlier this month will not be repeated.

A spokesman for the Kludsko mayor's office, Tomas Staslowicz, summed up the tense watch: "On Saturday, the river rose to one meter above the flood alert level. We stopped trying to clean up from the July 8 flood and evacuated 60 more people because we expected the worst."

Two weeks ago, a sudden wall of water four meters above flood-alert levels had cascaded down the river and surged through the lower town to the height of its second-story windows. This time the tributary of the Nysa river which runs through this mountain valley town of 60,000 on the Czech border stayed within its banks.

Today, the town remains in a state of alert, but teams are out repairing its gutted riverside neighborhoods. A frog hops along a mud-covered street as city officials continue removing its wrecked traffic lights and pavement.

Staslowicz says more than 1,000 people lost their homes entirely in the July 8 flood, while seven times that number suffered substantial damage to their homes or businesses. He estimates those losses, plus damage to the town's infrastructure, reach almost $26 million.

Other towns and cities in Poland, where flooding has killed 60 people since early July, spent an equally uneasy long weekend. Authorities in the border city of Walbrzych evacuated more than 1,600 people in a precautionary measure. The evacuees added to the 140,000 people evacuated in Poland so far. News reports say that almost half the evacuees cannot return to their homes, either because they are too badly damaged or because they are within the 230,000 hectares of southern Poland still underwater.

Across the northeastern Czech Republic, where at least 46 have died in the recent flooding, fears of a second-round flood over the weekend were also high. Around the northeastern industrial city of Ostrava, rescue teams found only a handful of people to evacuate as river levels rose. Police reported that most people in areas that where floodwaters earlier this month reached rooftop levels were either still living in evacuation centers or living with relatives. Since the flooding began, some 2,000 people have been made homeless.

Thousands of flood victims are looking now to Warsaw or Prague for funds to rebuild their lives. In Klodzko, local authorities say they will begin this week to distribute promised government aid of $850 to each family whose home has been badly damaged. Polish government estimates of recovery costs range from $1 billion to twice that. The Czech government, has promised $6,000 in compensation to flood-struck families, and estimates total recovery costs of up to $3,000 million.

The easing of the immediate danger of new floods is bringing renewed debate in some towns of why they received so little advance warning that floods were coming earlier this month. In Kludzko, local officials say they got no information from the provincial or central governments that accumulated rainfall in the mountains could bring a sudden catastrophe.

Staslowicz, the Klodzko spokesman, told our correspondent that it appears that no-one expected such a flood." He said that in the first days of the disaster the city got no help from outside. Since then, Warsaw has sent troops and equipment to strengthen and raise the riverbank. And food, water and clothes have poured into the city, mainly in voluntary contributions from other Polish cities.

Officials in Klodzko hope regional authorities, which now are blanketing southern Poland with virtually hour-by-hour meteorological information, do a better prediction job next time. Meanwhile, the town is taking no chances. The local government has posted its own flood-watchers upstream to warn it of any new rise in the river level in enough time for evacuations.