The presidents of several Central European countries gathered in the town of Castolovice on Thursday in a sign of solidarity during the current flood crisis. Czech President Vaclav Havel received pledges of support and emergency aid from Hungarian President Ferenc Madl and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski. Slovakia's Rudolf Schuster was unable to attend due to illness. The Visegrad group, consisting of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, was formed ten years ago to promote co-operation among the four former Communist countries. Each is currently a leading candidate for the European Union, and Slovakia may join the other three in the NATO alliance this year.
Heavy rains drenched parts of the Czech Republic on Wednesday night as meteorologists warned that more rain in the next few days could lead to further flooding. Some 70 millimetres of rain fell late Wednesday and early Thursday on the Sumava and Novohradske mountains near the Czech-Austrian border, and on the western city of Plzen. As a result, some of the area's rivers, which flow north towards Prague and Germany, are once again slowly rising. The Czech Meteorological Institute has issued a storm and flash-flood warning for southern and western Bohemia.
More than 1,000 residents of Prague returned to the flood-ravaged neighbourhood of Karlin this week, the first time they had been allowed back to their homes. Some have been allowed home permanently, others were given a few hours to collect valuables and throw out rotting food. Officials say contaminated rubbish and decaying meat in butchers' shops poses a major health hazard. So far, three buildings in Karlin have collapsed, although no one was hurt. Prague authorities have warned they would not be responsible for the safety of residents who violate evacuation orders.
President Havel said earlier this weeks that the Czech Republic had partly brought the flood devastation upon itself, laying the blame at the feet of the country's former communist rulers. In an article published in Britain's Financial Times newspaper, Mr Havel blamed what he described as "long-term attacks on the natural fabric of the landscape" - especially during the Communist era - for the devastation wrought by the floods over the past fortnight.
The death toll from the floods reached 14 on Thursday, when police found the body of a man floating in a river near Roztoky, just west of Prague. Police believe the body is that of a 24-year-old Slovak who was reported missing. The Czech authorities have launched a massive clean-up following the worst floods in several centuries. More than 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes, many houses were destroyed, and the final cost of repairing the damage could reach three billion dollars.
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 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.
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