June 25, 2009 / 4:51 PM / 10 years ago

Ten dead in Czech floods, central Europe on alert

NOVY JICIN, Czech Republic (Reuters) - At least 10 people died in flooding in the eastern Czech Republic, and rising river levels prompted flood warnings across central Europe following heavy rains this week.

Residents push their bikes through a flooded street in Jesenik nad Odrou June 25, 2009. At least eight people died in overnight flooding in the eastern Czech Republic, police said on Thursday, and rising river levels prompted flood warnings across central Europe following heavy rains this week. REUTERS/Petr Josek

The 10 Czechs died near the country’s border with Poland and Slovakia, with most of the damage near the town of Novy Jicin, 260 km (160 miles) east of Prague.

Officials said at least six people were drowned late on Wednesday and four more died when medical teams were unable to reach them.

Rescuers evacuated hundreds of people from wrecked houses and buildings threatened by high water, and the government moved to deploy up to 1,000 soldiers to help.

“The situation is bad, although somewhat stabilized,” said Tomas Vindis, a council member in Novy Jicin, a town of 27,000.

“The water is not a threat at the moment... but the forecast is not exactly favorable, so everybody is worried a bit that it could come back.”

The flooding is the central European country’s worst natural disaster since heavy floods in 2002, when 17 people died and water ravaged the historic center of Prague, costing the state around $3 billion in repair costs.

The governor of the hardest hit region, Jaroslav Palas, said the damages now would run into the tens of millions of dollars.

In Austria, the river Danube has risen this week after some of the heaviest rainfalls in 50 years. The water level was expected to peak in Vienna Thursday as rainfalls ebbed.

Vienna’s Albertina Museum, home to landmark impressionist works by Monet and Renoir, started evacuating 950,000 artworks Thursday from its leaking underground depot.

Around 13,000 police, firefighters and soldiers worked to stem the floods Wednesday. Some villages along rivers flowing toward the Danube were cut off and cellars and roads were underwater, mainly in the region west of the Austrian capital.

Bratislava declared a second-degree alert in western Slovakia, where the Danube was expected to crest later in the day.

Hungary put first or second degree alerts in place for the upper section of the Danube. Budapest has called the highest alert for the lower section of the northwestern Raba river.

The Polish National Security Center said rivers topped warning levels in 43 places and alarm levels in another 20. Flood alarms were introduced in parts of southern Poland.

Czech meteorologists forecast more rain into the weekend.

Additional reporting by Robert Mueller in Prague and Reuters bureaux in Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw and Bratislava, writing by Jason Hovet and Peter Laca; editing by Michael Roddy

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