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Saxony-Anhalt

Flood waters recede in Germany as rescuers plug the leaks

Water levels have started to retreat, a broken dam is almost fully restored and the flood alarm has been lifted in some parts of Germany. Two weeks took their toll, but Germany's summer flood seems to be subsiding.

The state of Saxony-Anhalt on Tuesday kept its flood alert in force for areas threatened by the swollen banks of the River Elbe. With vast swathes of eastern Germany still underwater, high-speed rail links between Berlin and Hannover were still diverted and delayed, although other services were restored to normal.

Many of the thousands of Germans asked to leave their homes as a precaution are yet to return, with the Fischbeck dam one site that remained evacuated.

Officials in the riverside village of Fischbeck said that the broken dam in Saxony-Anhalt was almost entirely restored. After suffering a roughly 90-meter (295-foot) tear, a crisis management official said that the dam was now only leaking water over a period of a few meters.

German soldiers and other rescue workers launched a spectacular mission over the weekend, strategically sinking concrete rods, sandbags, and even two barges to reinforce the defensive wall. (Part of the operation is pictured above.)

"The shoring up of the dam has succeeded, that's surely the message of the day," Saxony-Anhalt Interior Minister Holger Stahlknecht said late on Monday, although another official added that the mission was ongoing.

"For as long as we still need to observe the dike, because the theoretical danger of a breach exists, then we need the help of the THW [a special federal German disaster relief agency] forces," a spokesman for the region said. "That's why we will not lift the flood alarm until there's no further danger to the dam."

Medals, donations and funding plans

More than two weeks of heavy flooding pushed Germany's disaster response forces to the limit, thousands of volunteers mobilized around the country to help - some of them traveling hundreds of miles to reach the flood-hit areas.

A spokesman for German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told the mass-circulation daily Bild that some volunteers would be rewarded with a special medal, apparently confirming a prior report in the paper.

The water damage has also prompted the German public to dig into their pockets to help. A weekend fund-raising marathon on public broadcaster ARD had raised an estimated 8.1 million euros ($10.8 million) as of Monday.

Federal and regional finance ministers, meanwhile, are likely to seek somewhere in the region of 8 billion euros for an overarching flood relief fund. Government officials said last week that no figure could be final while the flooding continued, but German finance ministers will convene on Tuesday for their first talks on how to raise and divide the money.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with RTL television that any flood relief would not result in tax increases. Merkel's Christian Democrats are expected to pledge either tax cuts or stable rates in their manifesto for this September's federal election.

msh/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)