“Flood of the Century” ravaged Czech Republic exactly 25 years ago

The floods of 1997, Olomouc

This July marks exactly 25 years since the Czech Republic was hit by the deadliest outbreak of floods in its history. The natural disaster in 1997 impacted almost a third of the country’s territory, and would acquire the nickname – “Flood of the Century”. Fifty people lost their lives as a result and more than ten thousand were left homeless. Damages exceeded 60 billion crowns.

Photo: YouTube

The cause of the floods was extremely heavy rainfall, which struck Czechia on July 4th 1997. Parts of Moravia and Silesia, the hardest hit regions of the country, experienced more than half of their average annual precipitation in the course of several days. By July 6 , most of the roads around Ostrava were flooded. In the town of Suchdol nad Odrou, the high water level even caused the derailment of a train en route to Warsaw from Vienna, leaving 70 passengers injured.

Troubky, a small village near the central-Moravian town of Přerov, became one of the sad symbols of the floods, which have since been evaluated as the worst to hit the country during the 20th century. On the 8th of July, the deluge destroyed a majority of houses in the settlement and left 9 people dead. Jana Zenková, a correspondent for Czech Radio in Olomouc, described the situation in the village in a report the next day:

Photo: YouTube

“For the whole day, helicopters have been evacuating people from Troubky, the worst-hit village of the region. Three-fourths of the local houses have been destroyed. While some fought to save their lives, others took advantage of the situation to loot abandoned shops and houses.”

In the following days, the flood-wave progressed towards larger river-side towns, including Olomouc and Ostrava. Olomouc’s historical center was almost completely inundated. While Moravia experienced the bulk of the damage, rivers overflowed in Bohemia too, as well as in the Krkonoše and Orlické Mountains.

Troubky after the floods in 1997 | Photo: Ladislav Svoboda,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0

By the end of July, the worst of the flooding had subsided. However, the impacts of the natural disaster continued to be felt. Over ten thousand people were left homeless, and bacterial infections began to spread at dangerously high levels. Cases of leptospirosis, a blood infection, quintupled following the 1997 floods. The disease took 4 lives, among them those of 2 rescue workers.

Josef Zieleniec | Photo: Zdeněk Vališ,  Radio Prague International

The total material costs of the floods were estimated at 60 billion crowns, more than a tenth of the state budget at the time. While the immediate disaster relief was paid for and administered by the government, the floods also sparked a wave of solidarity in Czech society as a whole. Citizens donated over 800 million crowns, which was no small sum in 1997, to charities helping the victims. The then foreign-minister, Josef Zieleniec, praised the Czech reaction to the floods in an interview with Czech Radio:

“For me, the way that our citizens have faced up to this disaster is a source of optimism. It is something uplifting amid the horror of this catastrophe.”

Czechia was not the only country hit by the 1997 natural disaster, as floods also struck Poland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia. In Poland, the calamity killed 56 people and is often referred to as the “flood of the millennium.”

The floods of 1997

  • 50 Czechs lost their lives as a result of the floods
  • The floods affected 536 Czech towns and almost a third of the country’s territory
  • 80,000 people were forced to flee their homes, more than 10,000 of them were left homeless
  • Total material costs numbered over 60 billion crowns
  • The floods also brought serious ecological damage as a result of dangerous chemicals, mainly petroleum products, that were released from flooded warehouses and industrial areas.