The Czech Republic is recording a gradual fall of water levels throughout the country and now faces the task of cleaning up after this week's catastrophic floods. In Prague, water levels on Saturday morning were down by more than four metres from Wednesday's high. Experts, however, expect a month to pass before levels get back to normal. Rescue teams have been replaced by thousands of clean-up workers and heavy machinery to remove tonnes of mud and debris. In the north of the country where the Vltava and Elbe rivers meet before heading into southern Germany, water levels also receded from nearly 12 metres. Hundreds of homes lay in ruins with dozens more on the verge of collapse.
The UNESCO Secretary General, Koichiro Matsuura, called on to the international community on Saturday to mobilise its forces to save world heritage sites from damage by extensive floods in Central Europe. Mr Matsuura said that UNESCO and its World Heritage Centre needed to provide all the technical and financial assistance available to help restore the flood damaged cultural heritage. He also expressed deep regret over the damaged centre of the Czech capital Prague, its old Jewish quarter, and the south Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov. Both Prague and Cesky Krumlov were entered in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 1992. Mr Matsuura furthermore wrote a letter to President Vaclav Havel to support his call for international aid to the Czech Republic.
Although the record water levels across the Czech Republic retreated further on Saturday, thousands of evacuated residents were unable to return to their homes as many areas remained without gas and electricity. Despite growing frustration, officials urged the evacuated citizens to be patient as authorities need more time to go building to building to ensure structures are safe. The floods forced some 70,000 Prague residents from their homes, and more than 130,000 were evacuated in the rest of the country.
Besides the large number of international organisations, several countries have also expressed solidarity with the Czech Republic, offering machinery and help from rescue workers. On Saturday, Italy sent water pumps and drying equipment and over 70 fire fighters from the German city of Frankfurt and some 40 fire fighters from southern Poland set off to help the flood affected areas. The countries have promised further help if needed. According to the CTK news agency, the United States intends to offer engineer equipment to those areas affected by the floods that it liberated in World War Two. This would involve the West Bohemian town of Plzen and the South Bohemian town of Pisek. A diplomatic source in Washington told the news agency that a proposal has already been submitted to the Czech side. Details are expected to be discussed during a meeting between U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton, and the Mayor of Plzen on Tuesday.
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.
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.
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.
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