Prague marks first anniversary of flood catastrophe

13-08-2003

August the 13th, 2002, is a day most people in Prague won't forget in a hurry - it began with wailing sirens and ended with the biggest deluge the Czech capital had seen in five hundred years. Exactly one year ago Prague woke up to find parts of the city underwater, and the effects of those "five hundred year" floods are still with us today.

Let's begin with a reminder of how Radio Prague reported those dramatic events, when the swollen River Vltava rose and rose before finally bursting its banks. Rob Cameron spent Tuesday the 13th on the streets and embankments of the city, and produced this report:

The warning came in the night. People living near the river were woken at four am on Tuesday, the sound of wailing sirens rousing them from their beds. Announcements on loudspeakers told them to pack up the bare minimum - food, water, medicines - and prepare to be evacuated. For many, Tuesday was a day of nerve-wracking anxiety.

Kampa during floods 2002Kampa during floods 2002 "Well, I live in Smichov, about 300 metres from the bank of the River Vltava. On Tuesday morning we found a notice on the door, saying we have to evacuate very quickly. So we had to pack up our necessaries and left the flat. I was a little afraid, because I didn't know what would happen."

By Tuesday afternoon, crowds of people were doing exactly what the authorities did not want them to do - heading for the embankments of the River Vltava, keen to catch a glimpse of the raging torrent.

"I've been here since half past nine in the morning. I just saw the river going up and up, just rising. You can see many things flowing in the water. Now you can see they are just trying to raise some things from the water, because they can damage the bridges. This is the first time something like this has happened in Prague."

Well not a day anyone of us will forget in a hurry - Rob, one year on, how much damage has been repaired, and how much work still remains to be done?

Florenc Metro station during floods 2002Florenc Metro station during floods 2002 "Areas like the medieval Mala Strana district, which was completely submerged by the floodwater, are now almost back to normal: a huge effort was made to return this architectural jewel to its former self. About a mile downstream, however, you get to Karlin, which was also badly damaged by the floods. Unlike Mala Strana, Karlin is far from back to normal. And also unlike Mala Strana, lots of people actually live in Karlin - 25,000 of them to be exact, and only a third of them have been able to go home. They can't go home because either buildings are in danger of collapse, or they're still being repaired. Added to that, they're still putting down new tram tracks, so public transport is still a problem. So you have two extremes: on one hand Mala Strana, the bit the tourists see, has made a remarkable recovery. On the other, Karlin - which was a living, breathing community - is still far from back to normal."

One of the biggest catastrophes of last August was the flooding of the Prague metro - a supposedly hermetically-sealed system that was meant to provide shelter to thousands of people in the event of a nuclear war. It didn't withstand the water very long, did it?

Florenc metro station during floods 2002Florenc metro station during floods 2002 "No it didn't. This was partly because the floodgates weren't closed in time, partly because some bits of the metro seemed to have built on the cheap, and partly because the force of the water was just so powerful. Actually there's an interview in one of today's papers with the man in charge of the police investigation into the flooding of the metro, and he says everyone involved was guilty of something: in other words, the failure to safeguard the metro from this scale of flooding built up gradually over twenty years. No-one is individually responsible: the police investigator speaks of "collective guilt". However the police still want to bring specific charges against specific individuals for specific failings, and those charges should be filed in September."

Right, and the big question is - do we know how much last year's floods actually cost this country?

"Well, the official figure for the total damage across the Czech Republic is 73 billion crowns, which is just over 2.5 billion dollars. But that doesn't include lost wages, farm losses and other hard-to-trace costs, so perhaps we'll never know the true figure."

Photo-gallery: Prague during the floods and one year later

13-08-2003