Usti "through worst" but city and region still suffering ravages of the Elbe River

04-04-2006

It appears after a week of floods in the Czech Republic the worst is probably over and water levels on swollen rivers have stabilised and even, in some places, gone down.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK In parts of the country the water levels on most rivers dangerously swollen just days or even hours ago, have stabilised or some have even begun to recede. That has brought tangible relief for many, for example, in the south Moravian town of Znojmo - where residents evacuated last week have begun returning to homes to resume - as soon as possible - normal lives. Damages may be extensive, but at least people can begin dealing with them.

But, other areas have not been so lucky, namely parts of north Bohemia swamped by the swollen Elbe River. A famous tourist destination - the town of Hrensko on the Czech-German border is still "under" water. And in nearby Usti nad Labem, a city of a hundred thousand people, there too the Elbe has wreaked havoc. On Monday parts of the city were cut off by flood waters, and a major bridge was closed. Several hundred remain evacuated. Has the situation improved since? On Tuesday morning I put that question to Usti's mayor, Petr Gandalovic:

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and mayor Petr Gandalovic, photo: CTKPrime Minister Jiri Paroubek and mayor Petr Gandalovic, photo: CTK "It seems that the worst is behind us because the Elbe River has culminated and we've been witnessing a very slow descent. Those parts which are under water will be flooded for the next five to seven days. It will depend on the weather. We still have about 400 people evacuated, and of course the situation for these people is getting more and more complicated the longer they stay outside of their homes.

Regarding transportation we have been able to keep one of two of our bridges in service. Great credit there goes to our fire fighters who pumped water for 24 hours overnight to help keep the entrance to the bridge open. That really is a tremendous success."

But, says Usti's mayor if his city has made it through the worst, that's not the story in other parts of the Usti region.

"The lower part of the region is seriously hit by floods all along the river. In the Litomerice region, smaller villages are really flooded under water. Also, the small town of Hrensko on the border is completely flooded."

Now we've heard from the government and various ministries putting forward proposals to pay to repair damages from the floods. From your position as the major of Usti, at what point does a tabulation of the cost begin?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "Well, we're still not in a position to begin calculating the damages although we have a good idea from the floods in 2002. I think immediate government action is needed."

The government is scrambling to deal with the flood situation, the most significant number put forward so far, some 5 billion crowns - more than 213 million US dollars - comes from the dividends of the state majority in the power utility CEZ. The Osinek company - which sold subsidiary Vitkovice Steel last year and said to have recorded record profits is also being mentioned in connection with finding funds. Not all experts agree that dipping into the dividends represents the best strategy, but is the approach the government is considering to try and guarantee that the state budget deficit doesn't deepen as a result of the spring floods.

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