Hungarian defences holding back cresting Danube

By bne IntelliNews June 10, 2013

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Budapest's flood defences are reported to be holding as the Danube River hits its forecasted peak in the Hungarian capital. However, the country remains on high alert, forcing the temporary closure of some important businesses.

Hungary is the latest Central European port of call for surging waters that have been pushing through the region over the past week or more. The waters of the Danube were forecast to peak late on the night of June 9 at 8.95 metres - their highest level for over 50 years, including during the catastrophic floods of 2002. However, those events prompted new defences and warning systems that appear to have averted disaster this time round.

"Budapest is not at risk of a catastrophe," Mayor Istvan Tarlos said, according to AFP. "The level is not expected to rise significantly," he added, despite the evacuation of around 1,200 people in the city.

"Of course anything can happen, but we have every reason to believe that Budapest will survive its biggest flood of all time," said Imre Pesti, head of Budapest's flood defence team.

However, the local unit of Japanese carmaker Suzuki, one of the main exporters contributing to Hungary's strong trade surplus - a rare positive in the country's struggling economy - announced it is to halt production at its plant just north of Budapest on June 10. Spokeswoman Viktoria Ruska told Reuters production will resume the following day, should conditions allow.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters that water levels are expected to recede only very slowly in the coming week, and that he would ask the parliament his Fidesz government controls on June 10 to approve an extension of the state of extreme danger announced last week.

"The flood is approaching the heart of the country, Budapest," Orban told reporters at a press conference in Esztergom, 65km north of the capital. "The next two days will be decisive, because the danger will affect the place where the largest number of people live and the most valuables are at risk."

Provoked by heavy rains over the past fortnight, across central Europe, the floods have killed at least 18 people, including 10 in the Czech Republic, since the start of June. While the waters in Prague and the surrounding Bohemia have been receding since the middle of last week, heavy thunderstorms on June 9 sparked small flash floods across the area, with weather forecasters predicting more storms in the coming days.

Meanwhile, German authorities evacuated 15,000 people on June 9 as the Elbe threatened to rise to more than three times its usual level in the central city of Magdeburg. The waters are higher than during the catastrophic floods of 2002 - which caused even greater devastation across the region - local authorities said, according to AFP.

The cost of the floods is now being tallied up. Despite limited closures of industrial enterprises across the recession-hit region, few expect the events to have a noticeable negative effect on economic growth. There is some suggestion that the reconstruction effort could help pep up GDP in the Czech Republic - a sort of enforced reversal of the government's harsh austerity - while the effect on tourism appears to be negligible, according to reports.

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