May 24, 2010 / 1:33 PM / 10 years ago

Deaths in Polish floods hit 15, peak heads north

* Death toll reaches 15 in Polish floods

* Damage spreading northwards, more rain forecast

WARSAW (Reuters) - The death toll from the worst floods to hit Poland in over a decade reached 15 Monday, as flood waters spread toward the north of the country and burst through a dyke, officials said.

Heavy rain has caused damage estimated at more than 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) over the last week, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes along the Vistula river, which flows from the southern Tatra mountains into the Baltic.

The situation was particularly bad Monday in the village of Swiniary, 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Warsaw, where water from the Vistula punched a 50-meter-long hole in a dyke.

“Emergency services have blown up the river embankment below the hole to help the water return to the river bed,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said. “The flood barriers in many parts of Poland are in a very poor condition now after days of inundation.”

Embankments were also blown up over the weekend in the town of Sandomierz in southern Poland to relieve conditions there.

Wozniak said landslides in southern parts of Poland, which have borne the brunt of the flood damage, were particularly dangerous, but water levels there had started to fall. Many areas there remain under water, she added.

“As the water has started falling, rescuers have found the bodies of people who had been declared missing,” Wozniak said. “The wave is moving north so we have already reassigned units of firemen and heavy equipment there to be ready when it comes.”

Poland’s interior ministry said it had assigned 152.2 million zlotys ($45.97 million) for people who suffered most from the floods and that each household would receive 6,000 zlotys ($1,812) to secure basic supplies of food and clothing.

WARSAW LARGELY UNSCATHED

Water levels peaked in the capital Warsaw over the weekend without causing major damage, after soldiers, police and emergency services reinforced sandbag defenses along the banks of the Vistula.

Many of Warsaw’s schools and kindergartens remained closed Monday as a precaution, while one of the main roads running alongside the Vistula was also shut.

Polish television has shown helicopters helping to evacuate stranded residents from the rooftops of their flooded homes, while some people escaped to safety in rowing boats.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said last week that the estimated damage caused by the floods could top 2 billion euros. Warsaw has requested emergency financial help from the European Union.

Poland’s meteorology institute said it expected more rain in the northern parts of the country in the next few days.

Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Michael Taylor

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