Flooded Europe Forever Changed

BERLIN, Germany, August 20, 2002 (ENS) - "This disaster changed life in Germany," said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder after a cabinet meeting Monday to deal with devastating floods that have forced at least 110,000 Germans from their homes over the past week.

The chancellor said that flooding in eastern Germany has destroyed everything that has been carried out in the last 10 years since the country was reunified. Repair and reconstruction of damage along the Elbe River, from Dresden in the southeast to Wittenberg farther north, and along the River Mulde is estimated to cost more than 10 billion euros.

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Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder meets with flood victims in the eastern town of Grimma. (Photo courtesy Office of the Chancellor)
On Monday, the swollen Mulde swamped parts of Dessau in central Germany. Farther north, the city of Magdeburg expects to be flooded tomorrow. In Wittenberg, the dyke holding back the Elbe broke in seven places, forcing some 40,000 people to leave their dwellings.

In yesterday's meeting, the Cabinet decided to hold off the second stage of a tax cut for one year, until 2004, saving about 6.9 billion euros, which will flow into the reconstruction of the flooded regions. This measure makes the financing possible of the flood assistance, without violating deficit criteria of the European stability pact.

Pedro Solbes, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, today in Brussels expressed his sympathy for the people affected by the floods that have created so much hardship, and said, "It is clear that financial assistance is urgently needed."

He welcomed the "swift and effective response of the German authorities to the crisis" and the fact that "the necessary measures are financed without jeopardizing the fiscal consolidation process" of the European Union.

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Flood waters ruined riverside homes. (Photo courtesy German Interior Ministry)
In an open letter to all German citizens last week, Chancellor Schroeder appealed to the public for generous donations for flood victims to be deposited into the accounts of relief organizations.

Storms and floods have killed at least 97 people in Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic in recent weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated, harvests are spoiled and buildings and roads destroyed.

On Sunday, the European Commission agreed on an aid package at a crisis meeting in Berlin called by Chancellor Schroeder and attended by leaders from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Commission President Romano Prodi.

President Prodi said the European Investment Bank would offer flooded countries millions of euros in loans. "This is a moment in which we have to show that true European solidarity exists," he said.

No exact figure has been put on the value of the package yet, but Germany is expected to receive some five billion euros.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and its World Heritage Centre will lend all the technical and financial assistance within its limited financial means to help restore cultural heritage damaged by the floods, UNESCO Director-General Ko´chiro Matsuura said in Paris on Friday.

In Dresden, where the worst floods ever raised the Elbe River to record levels last week, historical buildings and artwork will need expert restoration now that the water is receding.

"While it is too early to take stock of the extent of the damage," Matsuura said, "it is clear that much effort will be required to safeguard and repair damage caused to important heritage, including the German city of Dresden with its countless Baroque treasures."

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Dresden's historic old section under flood water (Photo courtesy German Red Cross)
Matsuura said the cultural heritage is "vital to the memory of humanity and to the identity of the numerous communities rooted in the region."

"We are particularly concerned about the damage caused to the historic centre of Prague and its ancient Jewish quarter. This quarter bears a unique testimony to a rich past whose traces have been tragically obliterated from much of the region," he said.

We are also deeply concerned about the preservation of the historic centre of the city of Cesky Krumlov, another Czech site on UNESCO's World Heritage List," Matsuura said.

"We are also worried about the historic city centres of Vienna and Salzburg, which are also the List, as are the unique Bauhaus buildings of the German city of Dessau, which, along with their collections, bear testimony to the birth of one of the most important movements in modern art and architecture."