Prague offers preservation expertise to Hurricane-stricken New Orleans


As we reported on Tuesday, restoration work is still going on in order to repair the damage caused by the massive floods in the summer of 2002 in various archives around Prague. Because the memory is so fresh and conservation experts in the Czech Republic have gathered a lot of experience over the past three years, the Prague City Council has offered to send a team of Czech experts to New Orleans to help the city restore its historic heritage damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The city of Prague has put together a four-member team, specialising in different types of restoration: from stone monuments to paper documents. One of the Czech experts set to travel to New Orleans is Michal Durovic, the head of preservation department at the State Central Archives in Prague. He recalls all the museums and archives that were flooded in 2002, including the National Technical Museum, the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Municipal Library.

"There were a great number of wet documents and therefore we decided in 2002 in accordance with international recommendations that the materials - after being cleaned, put in plastic bags and labelled - should be deep-frozen to temperatures of minus 20 to minus 25 degrees centigrade. The total volume of these documents was approximately 2,000 cubic metres."

Michal Durovic says the frozen documents first need to be dried, then disinfected and finally selected archival documents and artefacts are preserved. These tried and tested methods could now help save archival documents in New Orleans.

"Firstly, I would like to emphasise that we would be very pleased to share all our experience with the American side but only in the case of their interest. In my opinion we can divide our future cooperation into three main fields. Firstly, we can invite our colleagues from New Orleans and other counties to Prague and show them all our technologies which we use for rescue of damaged archival documents.

"Secondly, we can share all our practical experience with conservation and restoration of these materials and thirdly, we are able to help them with the conservation of some concrete damaged archival documents but we must do it here in the Czech Republic."

Within two or three months the Czech team should identify projects in New Orleans where Prague can help and choose one historic building which the city can help restore. The City Council has earmarked 16 million crowns (647,000 dollars) for this project.