A third degree chemical alert was called in the north Bohemian town of Neratovice on Thursday following a leak of poisonous chlorine gas from the flood damaged Spolana chemical factory. The inhabitants of the town were ordered off the streets and warned to keep their windows closed. Chemical experts who measured the amount of chlorine in the air for several hours said evacuation would not be necessary since the amount measured was not considered a health risk. Chlorine is deadly to humans in high concentrations and was used as a chemical weapon in World War One. Greenpeace activists have expressed concern about possible contamination of the river Elbe if poisonous dioxins and 250,000 kg of mercury stored at the Spolana chemical plant should leak.
A man watching the police blow up a stray cargo boat on the river Elbe on Thursday morning was killed by shrapnel. A special police commando was ordered to sink four cargo boats which had floated out of control in the floods and threatened to damage bridges along the river. The man was one of several onlookers who gathered to witness the operation but it is not clear whether he disregarded police instructions and crossed into an off limits zone for a better view. He is said to have died on the spot.
As water levels in south and central Bohemia recede, towns along the river Elbe in north Bohemia are still bracing for the worst . The swollen river is expected to peak sometime on Friday. Emergency crews and volunteers have been working hard to minimize the damage. In the town of Usti nad Labem the banks of the river are piled high with sandbags and the town's mayor has asked the defense ministry for armored vehicles to help anchor barges on the river.
The mayor of Prague Igor Nemec has warned the inhabitants of evacuated districts not to return to their homes before they are declared safe. Two four storey houses in the flooded district of Karlin collapsed early on Thursday causing concern over potential casualties. Rescue workers searching the area , said no one appeared to have been hurt in the incident since the houses had been standing empty, slated for demolition. The authorities are now worried about the state of other flood damaged buildings whose inhabitants might have disregarded the evacuation order and remained in their homes.
In Prague the river Vltava appears to be falling, after earlier fears it would engulf the city's historic Old Town. The last round of evacuations took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Residents of the Old Town and Josefov districts - home to Prague's ancient Jewish quarter - were forced to leave their homes, and emergency workers erected sandbag walls to protect the National Theatre and the Old Town Square. Streets in the Mala Strana, Karlin, Smichov and Holesovice districts are underwater.
Emergency shelters have been set up in many parts of the country and psychologists are helping flood victims to deal with the crisis. Telephone help lines and counselling centres are working around the clock. The mayor of Prague has advised people not to return to their homes too soon, since parts of the Czech capital are expected to remain without electricity and gas, clean water and food supplies for some time.
The floods have affected many areas of the Czech Republic. In southern and western Bohemia water levels are gradually falling, but other regions are bracing themselves for further floods. In the South Moravian town of Znojmo 5,000 residents have been evacuated as a flood wave approaches the town. Some of the most serious flooding is currently in Central Bohemia. The town centre of Kralupy nad Vltavou, a few kilometres north of Prague, is underwater and 3,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. Floods are expected in the northern town of Usti nad Labem but reports say residents are ignoring police appeals for them to move to temporary shelters.
A state of emergency is still in force in the Czech Republic where the capital Prague and many other parts of the country have been hit by the worst floods in more than a century. Over 200,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, 70,000 in Prague alone. Floodwaters and debris have smashed railway bridges, knocked out water treatment plants and closed roads throughout the country. At least ten people have died and two are missing. Damage has been estimated at hundreds of millions of crowns
President Vaclav Havel cut short his holiday in Portugal on Wednesday, and returned to Prague for talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Earlier Mr Spidla appeared on television, appealing for people to remain calm, co-operate with the authorities and not hamper rescue efforts. In a statement broadcast by national television Mr Spidla thanked the Czech people for facing a grave situation with "great courage and great vigour". Mr Havel was later seen on television walking across Charles Bridge.