Flood waters replace freezing cold, threaten Czech Republic again

Photo: CTK

After one of the longest winters on record, weather is again the source of problems in the Czech Republic. The brutal cold finally gave way to warmer temperatures this week, bringing record high temperatures on Monday. However, this dramatic change has led to high water levels in many areas of the Czech Republic, including Prague, where the devastating 2002 floods are still fresh in people's minds.

Photo: CTK
High water levels on many rivers in the Czech Republic have brought out fire and rescue crews as well as the army. Around the country, people are fearing a repeat of the devastating floods that took place almost four years ago.

The flooding has already called for the evacuation of several municipalities and even caused one death. A five-year boy was found drowned around midnight on Tuesday. Apparently, he fell into a storm drain and was carried away by the raging waters. The boy's body was found several hours later by firefighters in a stream that had broken its banks.

Despite this grim news, the situation is not as bad as many people fear. Petr Kopacek from the General Directorate of the Fire and Rescue Corps said that rescue and emergency services are well prepared for the situation and have things under control so far.

"Rescue corps across the Czech Republic are prepared to deal with the floods. Firefighters in many locations are monitoring the water levels. In cooperation with the army, they are building flood barriers. At several locations they are pumping water from flooded buildings. However, this is not a situation that the integrated rescue system cannot handle. The situation is serious, but manageable with the resources currently at hand. We are not planning any extraordinary measures."

Photo: CTK
The Fire and Rescue Corps has also prepared helicopters, extra men and thousands of sandbags just in case the situation deteriorates. Barriers have gone up in large cities such as Usti nad Labem, Ostrava and Prague. Right now, the worst situation is in the village of Vestec in Central Bohemia, which has been completely evacuated, but mostly the flooding is of a local nature and not a national emergency. Petr Kopacek told Radio Prague where the most serious conditions can be expected.

"The situation is currently very complicated in areas such as South Moravia on the Svratka, Dyje and Morava rivers. We are also preparing here in Prague for the arrival of the flood wave."

How the situation will play out in Prague over the next 24 to 48 hours is something Radio Prague asked Hydrolog Jan Danhelka from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute:

"The current water level in Prague is about 1300 cubic meters per second. The expectation is that the level will be kept to about 1400 to 1500 cubic meters during the day today and tomorrow which should be the maximum level reached during this flood episode in Prague. The goal is to keep the water below the level of the declared highest flood warning."

Photo: CTK
So that's the situation in some parts of the country. But what is the situation in the Czech capital? Pavla Horakova went down to the Vltava River to find out.

"Well, I am standing just by the Vltava River, in the north of Prague, just outside Vltavska metro station (which is called after the river). I can see the river rushing at quite a speed and the colour of the water is distinctly brown - a sign that it is flood water. Also I can see logs floating here and there on the river. Across the river, on the other bank, I can see trees submerged in water. I don't know if it's fifty centimetres or more but they are growing as if out of the water.

"Just above me on the embankment, the anti-flood barriers are being raised. They are sort of metal walls designed in a way that they don't let water through and they are anchored in the pavement. The whole system of the anti-flood barriers was installed along the Vltava River in Prague after the 2002 floods which badly damaged some parts of Prague. And this is, I believe, the first time that the barriers are being raised not as an exercise but because there is a potential threat that the Vltava might continue rising."

Meanwhile, Pavla has returned from the centre of Prague and joins me now in the studio.

"Well, I walked along the river in the centre of Prague this morning for about an hour and I could see that the water level was higher everywhere. For example two islands in the centre looked as if they were sinking. Near café Slavia, which many of our listeners may know, there is a children's playground just by the river and the climbing frames were half under water. On other side of the river, in Mala Strana, there was a whole restaurant garden under water with only the marquees showing.

"Also, there is a weir between Charles Bridge and Strelecky Island. It has now almost disappeared - the water level above the weir is the same as below. What is also unusual is that there are absolutely no boats on the river. All traffic on the river has been halted until further notice. At this time of year, there would be at least a dozen steamboats cruising, with tourists on board. Speaking of tourists - I saw so many people standing along the embankments and on bridges taking photos.

"Otherwise, on Wednesday morning life went on as normal in the centre of Prague. Although the water level is quite high, it's far below the levels of the 2002 floods - but people are much more cautious now because the memory is still very fresh."