The General Director of the Spolana chemical factory, Radomir Vek, has been
sacked following two serious leaks of toxic chlorine gas and liquid chlorine
at the flood-damaged plant, just 25 km north of Prague. The plant's board
has decided to replace Mr Vek with the General Director of Chemopetrol,
Miroslav Kuliha, as of Tuesday. A third degree chemical alert was called in
the north Bohemian town of Neratovice and several nearby villages on Friday
following an accident at Spolana in which several hundred kilograms of
poisonous chlorine gas were released into the air. A Spolana representative
later admitted to other flood related problems, saying that close to 80 tons
of chlorine had leaked into the river Elbe when the plant was flooded.
Meanwhile, at the plant itself, Spolana's emergency committee decided on Monday to begin pumping out the remaining 12 -14 tons of chlorine, to be converted into non-toxic sodium chlorate. Since a further leak of the chlorine gas into the air cannot be ruled out, rescuers have been put on alert and evacuation buses are ready to transport residents to a secure area.
Czech police said on Monday they had recovered the body of another victim of floods that ravaged much of the country, bringing the death toll to 16. A police spokeswoman said the body of a 46-year-old man was found late on Sunday near the town of Litvinov, about 80 km north of Prague, adding that the victim probably died about 12 days earlier. Torrential rain in much of central Europe swelled rivers in the Czech Republic to record levels almost two weeks ago, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Many of those evacuated remain barred from returning to their homes as numerous buildings suffer structural damage. Czech government officials have estimated the cost of repairing the damage to run between 2 to 3 billion U.S. dollars.
The authorities in south Moravia and Lower Austria are to set up a joint body to deal with possible flooding in the region of the Dyje river, which separates the Czech Republic and Austria. At a meeting on Friday the chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, and Lower Austrian governor, Ervin Proell, agreed that shortcomings in cross-border co-operation during the recent floods needed to be dealt with. Mr Proell said that the floods would be high on the agenda of talks between the Czech and Austrian presidents, Vaclav Havel and Tomas Klestil, when the two men meet in two weeks' time.
While many parts of the Czech Republic experienced sunshine on Friday, weather forecasters have warned that some regions which have been flooded could be hit again; warm weather brings storms and those rains could raise river levels. The ground in flood hit areas is still water-logged and could not absorb any more water, experts from the Czech Meteorological Institute said on Friday.
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.
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.
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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