Czech negotiators in Brussels have said the Czech Republic would push to conclude negotiations on entry to the European Union within months despite the record floods which have just swept the country. Petr Jezek, deputy chief EU negotiator at the Czech Foreign Ministry told journalists that the Czech Republic could ill afford any delays if the country wanted to be admitted to the EU in the fist wave of expansion in 2004. "The set target date for concluding the accession talks remains valid" Jezek said. The EU has pledged to divert close to 60 million euros from two programmes normally dedicated to financing reconstruction projects in candidate countries to help the Czech Republic recover from the worst floods ever recorded in the country.
More than 1,000 Prague residents wearing hygiene masks and rubber gloves were allowed to return briefly to their homes in the flood-ravaged Karlin district on Wednesday. They queued up for hours to be allowed entry into the off-limits district where two chemical defense units are eliminating possible sources of infection such as rotting meat and dead animals. Children and vehicles were forbidden for fear of disease bacteria and undermined roads. Experts assessing the state of the water-damaged buildings in Karlin have ascertained that 40 of them sustained serious structural damage. The houses bear crosses and are slated for demolition.
The damage to the city centre of Cesky Krumlov, a south Bohemian city on UNESCO's cultural heritage list, has been estimated at over 300 million crowns. According to the city hall this estimate does not include damaged buildings and bridges outside of the UNESCO-protected historical centre. UNESCO has promised to help restore the city's cultural legacy and the Czech government has also earmarked funds in aid of Cesky Krumlov. The city's mayor told journalists on Wednesday that although he appreciated concern for the town's cultural legacy his top priority at this point was to help people who had been left homeless.
A commemorative ceremony was held outside the Czech Radio building at Vinohradska street on Wednesday, August 21st to mark the 34th anniversary of the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Some 150 people came to pay homage to the victims of the invasion and to recall the days when Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Prague to crush the Prague Spring reform movement. At the end of the ceremony, people laid flowers under a plaque bearing the names of 15 people, among them several radio editors, who were killed in the street skirmishes.
Meanwhile, hygiene officers are issuing repeated warnings of a heightened threat of infectious diseases in the flood damaged regions. People cleaning out their homes are urged to use plenty of disinfectant, rubber gloves and refrain from snacking on the job. But people working in the hot weather for many hours a day frequently disregard these instructions. Over 20 thousand people are to get vaccines against Hepatitis A, mainly children and people cleaning up the affected areas. In the meantime paramedics are distributing gamma-globulin as a form of protection. The state of emergency declared in several regions has been extended until the end of the month.
Czech hygienists have warned of another threat of infectious diseases as mosquitoes multiply in flood-affected parts of Moravia. Most fears are directed to a lake covering 1,500 hectares of land that has formed in a field between the villages of Hevlin and Novosedly. According to the South Moravian Hygiene Office, dead animals are already floating in the water as the weather gets warmer, creating an ideal breeding environment for insects. With the water levels failing to fall, the warm weather has resulted in decomposition. Residents in the area have been advised to stock up on insect repellent and insert mosquito nets. Despite the hot weather, they are also advised to wear clothing that covers the entire body. After the floods in 1997, residents in the crisis area were plagued by ten mosquito bites a minute.
The U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic has began a tour of flood-affected regions to assess the degree of damage from last week's devastating floods. Mr Craig Stapleton visited the town of Plzen on Tuesday, which bears historic ties with the United States having been liberated by U.S. troops in WWII. He will also be travelling to southern and north Bohemia in the next few days. Speaking to journalists, he promised to get help not only from the U.S. government, but also from firms, foundations, unions, and U.S. citizens. Despite the extensive flood damage that the Czech Republic has suffered, Mr Stapleton was confident in Prague's ability to host the NATO summit in November. In light of the summit, he added, U.S. aid will have to be provided fairly quickly. Whilst the immediate focus is to be on disinfectants, medicine and other material, there will also be other forms of aid such as affordable loans from U.S. banks or insurance companies, and an effective way to reconstruct infrastructure and private property.
Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on Tuesday that the Czech Republic will not be sending any more soldiers to Afghanistan for the time being. The reason is the country's lack of finances as much of its budget will have to be used for the rebuilding of the flood-damaged country. Although all Czech soldiers on missions abroad will not be called back, no new units will be sent out. There are currently two hundred medical unit soldiers on a mission in a field hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul. The Czech Republic has also sent a chemical unit to Kuwait to join the international fight against terrorism. The financial strain, however, has been immense forcing the government to dig deep into its budget and acquire a debt of several million Czech crowns.
Another house in the Prague 8 district of Karlin collapsed at about one o'clock after midnight. The interior ministry believes that no lives were lost as no bodies were found whilst rescue workers searched through the rubble. The building collapsed despite experts claiming it was safe. The police have now closed off much of the area to allow for further testing of building structures. The 25,000 evacuated people living in the district, will now have to wait longer before being allowed to return to their homes. On Saturday night, many had a brief chance to collect a few items before the area was cordoned off again. Saturday night's collapse was the third in the past three days. The first building collapsed on Thursday, the second on Friday.
The Czech Republic is recording a gradual fall of water levels
throughout the country after this week's catastrophic floods. In Prague,
on Sunday morning, levels on the Vltava river were down by five metres
from Wednesday's high. Experts, however, expect a month to pass before
levels get back to normal. Rescue teams in the flood-hit areas have been
replaced by thousands of clean-up workers and heavy machinery to
remove tonnes of mud and debris. The country's hygiene officers have
also warned of a possible outbreak of epidemics and urged those taking
part in rescue work to respect health precautions and get
vaccinated against diseases.
In the past week 220,000 people were evacuated from their homes. According to figures released by the interior ministry, 18,300 people took part in rescue work, out of which 3,500 were professional fire fighters, 7,800 volunteer fire fighters, and 7,000 police. Some 2,500 soldiers patrolled the evacuated areas for fear of looting. Fourteen people are believed to have lost their lives.