Czech Republic declares state of emergency as rivers rise

By bne IntelliNews June 3, 2013

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A state of emergency was declared in the Czech Republic on June 2 as continued heavy rain threatened to cause rivers to flood, sparking fears of a repeat of the 2002 disaster that killed dozens and cost the country billions of euros.

"The government approved the declaration of a state of emergency which will enable a more effective rescue effort," Prime Minister Petr Necas told reporters, as the rains persisted throughout the day.

Five people were reported dead and several others missing as swollen rivers across the country burst their banks. Thousands more have been evacuated, and low lying areas of the centre of Prague are now under water. In the afternoon of June 2, Prague authorities limited road use and surface public transport, as well as closing eight central metro stations. "The situation is very serious," acting mayor Tomas Hudecek stated as he called on people not to travel to capital. The main train line connecting the city to the east of the country was also shut.

Necas pledged CZK300m (€12m) for relief efforts, and a further CZK1.3bn to help fund the clean-up operation. He added that another 2,000 troops were ready to support the 300 soldiers already building flood defences in Prague and other areas.

Weather forecasters predict the rain will continue for at least another few days, reports Bloomberg, although they will lighten. That said, rivers continue to rise, with the Vltava, which runs through the centre of the capital, is expected to crest on the afternoon of June 3. "[The] Vltava should crest this afternoon and reach the height of 497cm with the flow rate of 2,900 cubic meters (cm) per second," river authority spokeswoman Michaela Pohunkova said. In 2002, the river reached 782cm with a flow rate of 5,160 cm per second.

With the rains almost uninterrupted over the past few days, Central Europe is struggling to manage its water courses. Austria has evacuated hundreds as it struggles to contain flooding and landslides, while the German cities of Passau and Rosenheim have also declared a state of emergency as the Danube rises. At least four people have died or are missing due to the floods in Germany and Switzerland in recent days, according to AP.

In the Czech Republic, in discussions reminiscent of the agonizing a little over a decade ago, authorities spent the weekend warning that the waters could not be held back should the rains continue. Meanwhile, troops have been building temporary flood defences across the capital in preparation for the threatened swell of floodwater. Those sandbags and fences will add to the $150m spent on improving the city's protection from the Vltava in 2002. The current situation looks likely to offer the first real test of that spending.

The 2002 floods killed 17, closed transport systems for weeks and provoked direct costs of CZK73bn, according to CTK. That was during boom years, with the Czech Republic additionally benefiting from its preparations to join the EU. Fast forward 11 years, and the country is struggling through the longest recession in its (short) history. The threat of a further drag on the economy due to closed transport systems, flooded business premises and reduced tourist numbers will only antagonize efforts to revive the economy.

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