- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

VIENNA, Austria The death toll from Europe's killer floods swelled to at least 74 yesterday as torrential rains unleashed waters that swept away Russian tourists, set off landslides in Germany and Switzerland, and shut down shipping on the Danube River in Austria.
Russia was by far the hardest hit, with at least 58 deaths. Giant cranes pulled cars and other debris out of the Black Sea yesterday, and cleanup crews scoured coastal beaches in search of more bodies.
Thousands of Russian tourists who had descended on the Black Sea Coast for their summer vacations were caught up in the surprise flooding. Many remain stranded, their cars swept out to sea by a wall of water that came rushing down from the mountains.
As many as 4,000 tourists were still trapped in Shirokaya Balka, a scenic coastal village that was devastated by the flooding, the Interfax news agency reported.
An investigative team was being formed to examine all the deaths for possible criminal charges, prosecutor Nikolai Buzko told the ITAR-Tass news agency. The team was also examining why some buildings had been erected in areas where development is prohibited because of erosion and flooding concerns.
Prague authorities ordered the evacuation of an estimated 50,000 people late yesterday as the biggest flood in more than a century approached the Czech capital.
Mayor Igor Nemec told a news conference that parts of Mala Strana, the medieval section of the picturesque city center, would be flooded by today as heavy rain in the south forced dams on the Vltava River to open their gates.
Authorities also feared the Vltava could flood famous Kampa Island, known for its architecture, and a zoo on the outskirts of the Czech capital. Some animals were moved to higher ground as a precaution. Workers were moving books and important documents to higher floors in buildings that house the National Library and the Czech Senate.
Austria saw its first two casualties in more than a week of unprecedented flooding. Both were in hard-hit towns in Salzburg province: A firefighter was swept away by a churning river in Mariapfarr, and a man's body was found floating in a flooded cellar in Hallein.
"The scene is catastrophic," Wilfried Weissgaerber, the national fire brigade commander for the province of Lower Austria, told Austrian radio as he described collapsed houses and washed-out railway tracks.
In Germany, a police officer died after her car ran out of control and turned over late Sunday night on the way to Wismar on the Baltic Sea coast. Near the city of Jena, another driver was killed in an accident that injured nine others, officials said.
Authorities in Thuringia state issued a flood alert for the Pleisse River, which broke its banks. Firefighters stacked 30,000 sandbags to protect houses from the rising water, and hundreds of German soldiers were helping residents reinforce riverbanks in other critical areas.
In the north, a train derailed near Hamburg after running into a mudslide caused by the rain. No one was injured, though the conductor and a passenger were treated for shock.

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