Water destroys myth of "fortress-like" metro

Metro Station Vltavska, Photo:CTK

It's still too early to put a final figure on the damage done by this week's severe floods, as many towns and cities across the country remain underwater. The country's infrastructure has suffered considerable damage, with roads washed away, bridges swept into the river, factories and power stations flooded. Here in Prague it was announced that the metro system has been so badly affected, it could be months before it's running normally again. Rob Cameron has more.

Metro Station Vltavska,  Photo:CTK
Prague's metro system is one of the best in the world. Fast, clean, reliable and cheap, there is no easier way to cross the city. Or rather was, since much of it is now underwater.

Almost a third of the 51 stations on the metro are either completely flooded or in direct danger of inundation. The water has paralysed the hub of the system - the key interchanges of Mustek, Florenc and Muzeum are all underwater. Access to the city centre has been severely hampered, and people living in the suburbs have been cut off. Residents of the Cerny Most housing estate on the end of the B line, for example, used to be able to get to the centre in around 25 minutes. Now they face an arduous journey, first by bus and then tram, skirting areas inundated by the floodwater. There's a similar situation throughout the city.

What many ordinary people cannot understand is why this happened. The first line of this Russian-built system - the Prague metro is strikingly similar to Moscow's - opened in the early 1970s. The Communist authorities boasted then that the metro could be sealed off in the event of a nuclear or chemical attack, providing shelter for thousands. So why wasn't it sealed this time, and if it was, how did the water get in?

The people running the metro say it's too early to tell exactly what went wrong. The system was built to withstand so-called "century floods" - floods which arrive just once a century. The problem, they say, is that this week's catastrophe was even bigger than that. "There's a huge bath lying underneath Prague at the moment, and basically we're at the bottom of it," said the metro's director.

Surroundings of Metro Station Florenc,  Photo:CTK
But not everyone is happy with that explanation. A metro employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Czech News Agency that the system was shut down and sealed too late. He said power had been turned off in evacuated stations, pumping equipment was left unused.

It will be weeks before Prague's metro dries out, and resumes its vital task: getting people moving in a city of winding medieval lanes and traffic-clogged thoroughfares. But one thing is clear - claims the metro would withstand hell and high water seem to be nothing but myth.