Austria still recovering from last years devastating floods

16-08-2003

Europe may now be sweltering in a record heat wave, but this time last year large swathes of central Europe were hit by the worst floods in decades. In Austria, Days of heavy rain caused rivers to burst their banks especially in the waterlogged provinces of Salzburg, Lower and Upper Austria. Many people in the worst hit areas had to be evacuated from their homes and several lost their lives. And once the floods had died down, they had to face the damage caused by the water and the thick mud. One of the places to face the most severe flooding was the town of Steyr in Upper Austria.

Floods in 2002Floods in 2002 It's a hot, dry summers day at the confluence of two of Austria's greatest rivers the Enns and the Steyr. I'm enjoying the tranquil play of nature from the large stony beach right in front of Steyr's town centre. It's hard to imagine now that 12 months ago it was a completely different sit:

Man: "It was virtually up to the bridge and there were rumours that the bridge might be torn away by the water. And there were logs coming down the river Steyr and they were hitting the bridge very hard. It was really dangerous."

The confluence of the two rivers has been the jewel in the crown of Steyr for centuries, first of all industrially and then touristically. A year ago those same two rivers became Steyr's worst enemies.

Sabine "It was horrible. I mean our town was just like a war zone because everywhere there were helicopters and there was water just everywhere."

Last time I saw Sabine, she was up to here knees in dirty river water, dragging he photocopiers out of her father's flooded shop

"My parents just put it all up on the tables but they had just 45 minutes. So my dad was running outside and he was just asking the people to help him out them up out of the water."

Isabella Viertlers family hotel overlooked the confluence. The hotel was devastated by the flood - one of the worst hit buildings in Steyr. As the flood died down so did the media interest in Steyr. But for the residents of the town, as the microphones and cameras disappeared, the real work began. The water may have gone but a thick film of black mud was everywhere and on everything. Frau Riegler lives in the Wehregraben, the worst hit area. I visited her house last year up to my waist in water. The watermarks showed clearly above my head. For many families and businesses the mammoth cleanup task is still underway. But amongst the consternation of 12 months ago, what sticks in many flood victims memories is the sense of solidarity and the help they were given. Mostly by friends but sometime from complete strangers. When Sabine's father turned up at dawn to start salvaging what he could of his business, this is what he found:

"There was this guy who had travelled all the way from Tyrol and he was just standing there with his Wellington boots and his working clothes. And he just said, 'hey can I help you?' For me it was just great too see people coming from everywhere in Austria just to help us. It was such a pleasure."

16-08-2003