- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

PRAGUE Raging floodwaters pushed the Vltava River to its highest levels in more than 100 years yesterday, threatening some of Europe's finest architectural treasures and driving tens of thousands of people from their homes.
Soldiers and volunteers braved torrential rains to sandbag centuries-old churches and concert houses in the historic city as repeated forecasts that the river was about to crest went by with the water continuing to rise.
Even worse damage was reported from other parts of the country. Nine deaths were reported across the Czech Republic, and more than 200,000 people were evacuated. The death toll from several days of flooding reached 88 people across Europe.
Most of those battling to defend Prague's medieval buildings and frescoes, some dating to the 13th century, said they were too busy to talk to reporters.
"We don't have time" to discuss it. "We have to move furniture," said the manager of the riverside Four Seasons Hotel before hanging up the phone.
A 28-year-old office worker, Marek Jasek, told Reuters news agency, "We can't stop now. Every hour is crucial to keep the water away."
A state of emergency was imposed Monday evening, even before floodwaters began to spill into the tourist-frequented Mala Strana district beneath Prague castle, the seat of old Bohemian kings.
Cranes were employed to clear debris from the 14th-century Charles Bridge, a famous landmark, to prevent its spans from being torn down. Officials warned that the river, already 20 feet above normal, could rise an additional 3 feet by this morning.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla described the situation as "grave."
Officials said most of the people who were evacuated waited to leave their homes until the floodwaters began spilling into the streets.
Many refused to believe the water would reach them, despite the dramatic pictures on television. Others feared looters, even though police and army personnel were deployed to protect evacuated areas.
Even more damaging floods have occurred outside the Czech capital. About 100 miles south of Prague, Cesky Krumlov, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site, was virtually cut off by rising waters, as was the nearby city of Ceske Budejovice home of the original Budweiser beer.
In the west, Pilsen, another city famous for its amber brew, was virtually underwater after four rivers in the region overran their banks.
The latest death reported in the Czech Republic was an elderly man whose body was carried for miles south of Prague. Another man died trying to save his dog in rushing waters, and several more people were missing.
In Germany, rising water on the Elbe River forced the partial evacuation of the Baroque city of Dresden, and the Zwinger Palace, home to one of Europe's great art museums, lay partly underwater.
In Austria, deaths were reported in Salzburg, and officials said the Danube River was rising by up to 3 feet an hour, according to wire services.
In Romania, a mother and baby died when a house collapsed in violent winds that also overturned a bus, killing the driver.
Weekend flooding in Russia's Black Sea region killed at least 58 persons, mostly Russian vacationers. Authorities have ordered a swift evacuation of tourists from affected areas for fear that sweltering temperatures could spark an epidemic.
A massive cleanup operation was under way in and around the oil port of Novorossiisk, where raging waters and winds had destroyed houses, uprooted trees and tossed cars. The German states of Bavaria and Saxony were hard hit, Reuters reported.
Many streets in Dresden, the Saxon capital, were closed. The fire brigade pumped water out of the basement of the Semper opera house, next to the Zwinger. Officials said the museum's art collections were unharmed.
The Elbe River in Dresden was about 16 feet above normal, the highest level since 1941, and 800 people were evacuated from a city hospital.
The Elbe and the Mulde, also in Saxony, were expected to rise overnight, and emergency services said they were preparing to evacuate 30,000 people. Officials said two persons died and seven were missing in the region.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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