Flood-damaged buildings threatened by cold weather?

20-12-2002

Four months after devastating floods hit much of the Czech Republic, the country still has its hands full recovering from the damage. With the winter having set in, those living in the flood-affected areas are waiting to see whether their buildings will survive the freezing temperatures. Dita Asiedu reports:

The stinking mud may have been cleared out and new furniture may have been bought but for many Czechs this is still no guarantee that the Christmas holidays will finally bring peace back into the flood-affected areas. Civil engineers around the country have done their rounds and given the green light to evacuated citizens to go back to their homes. But in most cases, the security of the re-opened buildings has not been fully confirmed. "We will know after the winter" is what many flood-affected citizens were told about the security of their homes. Civil engineer Cestmir Dobes explains:

"If the masonry is dry then there is no threat of damage but if it is soaked with water, when the parts inside the structure are full of water, then it is dangerous. The water could freeze and it would have the same effect as water that freezes in a bottle - the area widens and results in the structure cracking. However, in order for the base of the construction to freeze to dangerous levels the building has to have been constructed from cheap material. There is no threat of danger in Prague and other cities as most buildings are in good condition, well maintained, and monitored throughout the winter. If it doesn't get colder than in the last twenty years and the building is properly monitored, there is no threat of damage."

Despite the fact that dozens of buildings were damaged by the floods in Prague and several had to be torn down or cordoned off, Mr Dobes believes the buildings in Prague are secure. There are numerous civil engineers monitoring buildings and the only damage that can occur is cracks in facades or the peeling-off of the upper layers of structures. According to Mr Dobes, it is those in the countryside who have cause for worry:

"Now the situation is different for houses in the villages and countryside. Some do not have deep foundations and have been built from material that is easily soaked - such as adobe brick, hollow brick, breeze block. In such cases, there is little that can be done to save the building."

What makes it worse is that it can take several more months before Czechs who have moved back into their homes will find out that they have to move out again:

"It can be a year or two after the floods but that would be unlikely, it would be where sand was washed out from under the foundations. What is currently a serious threat is wood-damaging fungi. They live off wood and as long as they are on a dry area then nothing happens but if the building is soaked then the fungi will be able to spread from the basement and up to the timber work of the roof."

20-12-2002