Flood focus moves to Slovakia and Hungary

By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2013

bne -

As the threat of catastrophic floods recedes in the Czech Republic, both Slovakia and Hungary declared states of emergency as the waters of the Danube rise towards 50-year highs.

Without rain for close to 24 hours now around the Czech capital, Prague has seen the waters start to drop after peaking early on June 4. With precipitation continuing elsewhere, areas to the north of the capital remain on high alert, while other countries in the region are sweating.

Earlier in the week, the Czech government had declared a nationwide state of emergency as it battled to contain floods that have killed a reported seven people to date. However, the risk has dissipated as the heavy rains have dried up. The focus now is on the north of the country - the direction in which the Vltava River flows - and on into Germany.

"In Prague and central parts of the Czech Republic the situation is stabilizing but we can't rule out more evacuations will be needed in the northern parts of the country," Nicole Zaoralova, a spokeswoman for the Czech fire and emergency rescue service, told The Wall Street Journal.

In towns further north in the Czech Republic like Melnik, Usti nad Labem and Decin, toward the German border, the water levels are still rising. In Melnik, the waters are rising toward levels not seen since 100 years ago.

Even if the worst is over, the floods leave seven people dead, swathes of the country without electricity, and billions of crowns worth of damage. The government is making available CZK4bn (€160m) to help clean up the damage plus another CZK1.3bn for repairing infrastructure like roads.

Czech businesses and homes are facing the terrible realisation that with 100-year floods now happening in twice in just over a decade, building in some areas simply won't be possible. In Prague, the Vltava is dotted with islands with restaurants, bars, playgrounds and sports facilities that both now and in 2002 have ended up submerged. One owner of a tennis club just recently reconstructed but now under water insists the facility will be rebuilt; sadly, that may not be possible.

Risks are rising in other countries in the region. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a state of emergency early on June 4 in the regions expected to be hit hardest, with the Danube expected to rise to record high levels in Budapest on June 5. The government is planning to mobilize troops to help emergency and police personnel build protective damns and get people to safety, Orban said. He also asked people living in flood-prone areas in the north-west near the Slovak border to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Slovak PM Robert Fico ordered a similar level of alert, with the Danube expected to rise another three metres from current levels as peak waters move to the south east after flooding Passau in Germany and Salzburg in Austria. Floods along the Slovak and Hungarian sections of the Danube are not expected to reach their highest levels until the weekend.

The Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute (SHMU) said it expects the Danube to crest at 900 - 1,000cm in Bratislava on June 6, according to Sita. In addition, the Morava River to the west of the capital also rose, exceeding 740cm on June 4. During the catastrophic floods of 2002, the Danube reached 991cm centimetres.

Fico said that thanks to the city's new flood defences, the authorities "are prepared to fight the water on the level at which it was in 2002." River management are preparing the new anti-flood system, which cost close to €33m during its installation in 2005-2010, for use. Away from the Danube, SHMU has issued a first-degree rain warning in the north and north-east of the country.

Meanwhile, back in the Czech Republic, the task of counting the financial costs of the flooding has begun. A survey of insurers by CTK said that companies now expect tens of thousands of claims worth "billions" of crowns. The country's biggest insurer - Ceska pojistovna - doubled its estimate of expected claims on June 4. The news is better for the tourist industry however, with a survey suggesting cancellations have been limited to around 10-15%.

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