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Swollen Elbe River breaches new levee in Germany

Jun 10th, 2013 - International News

— The swollen Elbe River breached another levee early Monday on its relentless march toward the North Sea, forcing German authorities to evacuate 10 villages and shut down one of the country's main railway routes.

As the surge from the Elbe pushed into rural eastern Germany, there was some relief further upstream as the river slipped back from record levels in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt state.

To the south, the Danube hit a record high Sunday evening in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, then began to ease back Monday. Officials said the city escaped significant damage, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban said soldiers and rescue workers would shift their focus further south.

Weeks of heavy rain this spring have sent the Elbe, the Danube and other rivers such as the Vltava and the Saale overflowing their banks, causing extensive damage in central and southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. At least 21 flood-related deaths have been reported.

The German city of Magdeburg grappled over the weekend with water levels more than 16 feet (5 meters) above normal, though the Elbe retreated by about a foot (30 centimeters) on Monday. More than 23,000 residents had to leave their homes on Sunday, but officials said an electricity substation in the city was no longer in danger of flooding — which would have made the situation worse by cutting off power to the drainage pumps.

But further downstream, a levee at Fischbeck, west of Berlin, was breached overnight, prompting officials to evacuate 10 villages in the area.

Germany's national railway said it had to close a bridge near Fischbeck that is used by trains linking Berlin to Cologne, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. It said some trains were being diverted via other bridges to the north and south, causing significant delays, and others were canceled.

Soldiers and volunteers have worked frantically over the past week to fill sandbags and reinforce flood defenses across central Europe.

Even with all those efforts, "we should accept that we humans should be humble, that even in the 21st century we don't completely control nature — that is one lesson from this situation," Saxony-Anhalt's interior minister, Holger Stahlknecht, told ZDF television.

He said it was too early to analyze what, if anything, might have been done to prepare better for flooding.

In Budapest, the Danube peaked late Sunday about a foot (31 centimeters) above the previous record, set in 2006.

"The capital city has pulled through the crest of the flood," Orban said while inspecting areas close to the Danube in northern Budapest.

The Danube widens noticeably below Budapest, reducing the threat of flooding, although Orban said flood walls and other defenses were being strengthened in several locations downriver.

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