Health officials have warned of a possible health crisis triggered by the raw filth left in Prague as floods have been receding. The health risk is one reason city authorities have prolonged the evacuation of some 50,000 of the city's residents, though some people have been allowed to return to their homes. People returning to the Smichov district of Prague have been urged to wear rubber gloves and boots and to disinfect everything which has been in contact with flood water or mud. Meanwhile, the Health Minister, Marie Souckova, has requested funds for a hepatitis vaccination campaign in flood affected areas, saying some 65,000 children could be vaccinated in the first wave.
The devastating floods which have hit the Czech Republic in the last week are now causing serious problems in several areas in north Bohemia. While flooding is believed to have peaked in the town of Usti nad Labem early on Friday afternoon, the situation worsened in Decin and Litomerice. Swollen waters where the Elbe river meets the Ohre have created a 20-kilometre-long, eight-kilometre-wide lake between Litomerice and Roudnice nad Labem.
It is now believed that thirteen people have died in the floods over the last week, with two more bodies being discovered on Friday. One was found in the central Bohemian town of Kralupy, and police said they believed the man had driven into a flooded street in a housing estate in the town on Wednesday evening.
The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has visited Prague to assess the situation following the severe floods; on Friday morning, he and Czech President Vaclav Havel flew over some flooded areas by helicopter, and visited an evacuation centre in Litomerice. The European Union has pledged to give the Czech Republic some 58 million euros in aid for the areas affected by the flooding. The money will mostly be spent on repairing infrastructure. Mr Havel thanked Mr Prodi for the solidarity the EU had shown with the Czech Republic.
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.
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.
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.