2013 Flood Aftermath: What’s next?

Here are some good news and bad news with regards to the Great Flood of 2013: We’ll start off with the good news, first: the giant wave of floodwaters of the Elbe and Danube Rivers have entered their respective mouths- Elbe emptying into the North Sea and the Danube in the Black Sea. And while that is a sign of relief for many people living near the river, the one has to keep in mind that it is not safe to enter the homes to clean-up, especially in areas of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein where the 200 meter wide Elbe became a lake 40 kilometers wide, sinking many villages, setting records in Lauenburg, Wittenberge, Lüneburg and Fischbek, and destroying livelihoods. It didn’t need the destruction of the Elbe Dam north of Magdeburg, the misalignment of the ICE-rail line between Berlin and Hannover, the sinking of three ships to close a 300 meter long dike breech that drowned Fischbek and the destruction of a dike near Barby where the Saale and Elbe meet to drain the floodwaters in the fields to realize how bad the Great Flood of 2013 really was.

Now comes the question of what’s next. Politicians are reluctant to help, donations are low, and many people affected are asking themselves whether they should have made that decision to better protect their homes and communities that were washed out by the Great Flood of 2002. Others are thinking of moving to higher ground. In either case, two major floods in 11 years should serve as a sign that a change in livelihood is unavoidable, meaning we should change before it is done to us, and when it happens, it will not be to our best advantage.

Using a new App, Audioboo, I’ve made a summary and a pair of questions for the Forum for you to consider (and of course answering either through the Comment section or through Twitter, Facebook or Pininterest.) You can access the Frage für die Forum by clicking on the title below.

The Flooding Question- Flensburg Files Frage für die Forum

Further updates on the flooding can be found here:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/flut-sonderfonds-bund-und-laender-einigen-sich-auf-milliardenhilfe-a-906642.html

http://www.dw.de/german-flood-prevention-still-cant-prevent-floods/a-16876765

http://www.dw.de/german-town-of-wittenberge-fights-floods/a-16875233

http://www.ndr.de/regional/hochwasserindex105.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/hannover/bahnfahrplan101.html

Flood Update: Records fall in Magdeburg and Wittenberge; Solidarity Pact used for flooding

Skyline in Magdeburg. Photo taken in Feb. 2011

 

Records set in Magdeburg, Wittenberge, Hitzacker; Hamburg prepares for Elbe, Solidarity Pact for Reconstruction of Region

Imagine this photo of the city of Magdeburg. It’s a fantastic community with 300,000 people with many bridges, churches (like the Magdeburg Cathedral) and the Hochwasserhaus, one of only two in the world that one can see. This photo was taken at sundown from the eastern bank of the Elbe River at a park.  Now imagine this scenery again but with water filled to the brim.

Residents, crew members and volunteers have been fighting windmills in keeping the violent waters of the Elbe from overflowing its banks, which would have caused substantial and irreparable damage to Magdeburg’s city center. Yet the battle has not been easy, as dikes have bursted and many suburbs of the city had to evacuate tens of thousands. 40% of the city center was under water. Even the rail lines connecting the city, its neighbor Stendal, and the likes of Berlin, Hannover and Oldenburg had to shut down due to water flowing over the Elbe River bridges.  The good news, if there is any right now, is that the water levels are finally going down. Yesterday morning, the city set a new record for flooding at 7.48 meters, more than half a meter higher than the record set in 2002.  In other places, records fell in places, like Stendal, Wittenberge (9.8 meters)  and Hitzacker (9.6 meters), with more to come in the next 24-48 hours in Lueneberg, Lauenberg and even Hamburg.  Most of the records that have fallen were the ones set in 2002, which has many people awing in amazement but scrambling to determine how often such mass floodings will take place. Already Saxony’s minister  Stanislaw Tillich is planning a conference on 19 June to talk about future planning to combat floods like this one. More information with a Frage für den Forum to come once the conference is finished.  But the flooding has already caused many politicians to criticize the current situation in Berlin. For instance:

Solidarity Pact to be Reinforced and used for Reconstruction:

Reiner Haseloff Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt is pushing for all 16 German states to put aside money for the reconstruction efforts in the flood-ravaged region. The Solidarity Pact, created in 1991 was designed for rich German states to pay money to those that are in financial need. This came under fire by the ministers of Hesse and Bavaria who wanted to reduce the amount of money contributed to these states, claiming that the money should be spent for their projects in their own state. Baden-Wurttemberg is the other state that is helping the other 13 states out, but has had no issues with this solidarity pact, according to minister,  Winfried Kretschmann. This pact, together with the Solidarity Pact with the eastern half of the country, scheduled to expire in 2019, will be hot topics on the agenda for the coming weeks for Germany will have to find a way to rebuild on its own. The European Union announced that funding for the solidarity pact established in 2002 has been exhausted due to the bailouts given to southern Europe, including Cyprus, Spain and Greece.

 

Hamburg prepares for the Worst:

Even in Hamburg, city officials are bracing the Elbe and its record-breaking water levels. Even though officials are expecting water levels to rise 2.5 meters with a dike constructed to withstand levels of up to 3.5 meters, people living in low-lying areas are being asked to move to higher ground for safety purposes. The unknown factor that is making many Hamburgers nervous is how high will the Elbe go and how the dikes will withstand the pressure from the river, which has been responsible for punching holes in dikes, especially in the area where it meets the Saale at Barby and Magdeburg. The river is expected to crest by week’s end.

Note: Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have the latest on the 2013 Floods and the Bridge Disasters in its own article. Good news is unlike the 2002 Floods, there were as many bridges destroyed as feared. But some notable ones, mainly in Saxony, are either destroyed or damaged beyond repair and are scheduled to be replaced.

 

More information on the latest regarding the flooding can be found here:

http://www.abendblatt.de/vermischtes/article116941024/Historische-Hoechststaende-fuer-Lauenburg-vorhergesagt.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/schleswig-holstein/lauenburg241.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/elbhochwasser159.html

http://www.thelocal.de/national/20130316-48565.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.dw.de/top-stories/germany/s-1432

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/finanztransfer100.html

http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/staedtetagpraesident-maly-solidarpakt-muss-sich-grundsaetzlich-aendern/8121350.html

 

 

Flood Update: Crest has arrived; Euro-Zone Funding has (and will) not

Elbe crests well below record levels in Dresden; Saale River receding in Halle, rising Magdeburg; No help from Brussels- further cuts imminent?

To start off the Newflyer update on the Great Flood of 2013 that has been deluging Germany this past week and is schedule to linger through next week, there are some good news that should be noted. Here they are:

Elbe River Fails to reach 2002 Mark in Dresden; Magdeburg on alert-  Shortly before 10:00am local time this morning, the Elbe River crested in Dresden, but way below what analysts had predicted. In 2002, the Elbe River crested at 9.4 meters, setting an all time record, and turning the Florence of Germany into the Venice of Germany with the Old Town (Altstadt) sitting in 1 meter of water. This time around, the Elbe River crested at 8.73 meters, missing the mark. While this may breathe a sign of relief for many residents who had feared for the worst, still clean-up is expected once the Elbe returns to normal levels, which will most likely happen over the weekend. Despite the majority of the city being high and dry, some areas did sustain damage as a result of the floods, especially in areas in low-lying areas.  The next stop for the Elbe are the cities of Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Dessau, and Magdeburg. There, flood records will most likely be set for not only is the Elbe flooding its banks, so are the rivers that empty into the fourth longest river in Europe, which includes the Mulde and the Saale River. Already the ICE-trains are being rerouted because the Elbe River crossing at Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is flooded. It is likely that Germany may be cut into two again, the first time since the 2002 floods.

Saale River receding but slowly- Despite a brief bump overnight, the Saale River is slowly but surely going down in Halle (Saale) and places to the south of the southernmost city of Saxony-Anhalt. The city is sitting at 7.87 meters as of present, down from a record 8.1 meters yesterday, breaking the 400-year old record.  Despite the river levels going down in the region, many towns are still on high alert because the rate of decline is much slower than expected. This includes an area between Saalfeld, Jena and Naumburg, where parts of those cities are still sitting underwater and will remain so through the weekend.  The next stops for the Saale are  Bernburg and Barby, which is mostly underwater, including the city hall, according to information from MDR-Radio.

Passau cleaning up; Deggendorf underwater-  Residents are slowly but finally returning to the Three-Rivers-City to assess the damage and losses caused by the flooding which had made the Old Town (Altstadt) look like Venice. While river levels are still extremely high and the riverfront is still 1-2 meters underwater, those on higher ground are racing to shovel the mud away and throw out what is non-salvageable. It will not be until next week when the Danube, Inn and Itz Rivers return to normal levels and people will see the destruction the flooding left them.  In the meantime, a breech in the dikes resulted in the small town of Deggendorf, located along the Danube northeast of Passau and Regensburg drowning in brown mud. People who could not escape in time, raced to the rooftops to be rescued by helicopters.  The Danube is expected to reach Vienna this weekend and Budapest by the beginning of next week. The people there are preparing feverishly for the worst.

No help from the European Union, but YOU can help-  Since 2002, the EU has had a solidarity fund which is used for helping people and businesses affected by natural disasters. As of present, it is estimated that the flood damage in Germany alone will top 7-10 billion Euros, with 2.3 billion coming from Saxony and 1.3 billion from Thuringia. Yet officials from Brussels have signaled that the solidarity funds are now empty, leaving local, state and federal governments scrambling on how to finance the reconstruction projects yet to come. To compound the situation, the growth of the German economy has been the slowest in five years, with recovery efforts in jeopardy because of the flooding washing away any attempts of economic growth in 2013. It is highly likely that Germany may enter its first recession in four years before year’s end, which unlike the last recession in 2009, it may last a couple years longer. This will most likely drag the rest of the EU into a deeper recession than in 2009 given the fact that Germany is the largest economic motor of the Union. And it will set the stage for a ferocious political campaign to try and topple Angela Merkel and the Coalition of the CDU and FDP through elections this fall.  Regardless of what happens, the regions affected by the flooding are on their own regarding the rebuilding efforts, which may take much longer than last time. And for people flooded out twice in 11 years, hearing the bad news from Brussels may add to their plans of packing up and moving on.

Yet, there are several ways where you can donate money, supplies and your time to the efforts in rebuilding the region. You’ll find the information below, together with links to the photos of the flooding in Europe.

 

Flood Relief Link:

http://www.dw.de/disaster-relief-organizations-seek-flood-donations/a-612392

 

Photos of Flooding:

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-floods-sweep-through-central-europe-fotostrecke-97569.html

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-heavy-flooding-continues-in-germany-fotostrecke-97511.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/03/situation-in-flood-hit-german-city-dramatic/2384955/

 

New Links:

http://www.n-tv.de/panorama/18-06-Fluthelfer-stirbt-beim-Sandsack-Befuellen-article10747971.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-union-says-no-aid-money-available-for-flood-victims-a-904103.html

 

Flood Update: Germany set to smash 2002 Flood Records!

Passau and Halle (Saale) set new hundred year flood records. Dresden set to follow. Elbe River rising drammatically. German Government to provide relief to areas affected.

“Two hundred year floods in 11 years are too much.” Those are the comments made by the mayor of the small town in Saxony called Grimma, after the Mulde rose and smashed the previous record set in 2002 a couple days ago. These words have been echoing around the flooded areas of Germany, where at the present time, as many as 8 of the German states are underwater or fighting the floods. In many cities throughout the country, new hundred year flood records were set with more yet to come as high waters of the Elbe, Rhine and Danube Rivers continue to rise, displacing tens of thousands of residents. While German chancellor Angela Merkel visited the areas affected yesterday, including the cities of Greiz, Chemnitz and Passau and has promised to provide millions of Euros in relief to businesses and residents affected by the floods, newspapers have reported that the damage and loss amounts are expected to be exorbitant. In Thuringia alone, an estimated one billion Euros is expected to be used to repair and rebuild areas affected by the floods. There, the situation has improved as water levels of the White Elster, Gera and Saale Rivers have decreased steadily in the past two days.

If the trend continues in the coming days and weeks, it is expected that the Great Flood of 2013 will be the worst flooding ever on record in Europe (both in terms of costs as well as the size of areas affected), even eclipsing the Great Floods of 1993, 2008 and 2011 in the United States. Already, many cities have set new records with more to follow. Here are some examples:

Passau:   At the junction of the Danube, Inn and Itz Rivers, the town of 50,000 has had a history of record floods with the worst being set in 1501 at 12.22 meters. This was smashed on Monday by 65 centimeters, even though levels could have reached the 13 or even 14 meter mark given the rasant rise of the rivers. All of the old town is meters under water and it will be a couple of weeks before the rivers return to their banks and people can return to their homes and businesses to look at the damage done by the floods. With its proximate location at the rivers, it is likely that drastic measures will have to be taken to ensure that such a disatser, which featured the city cutting power drinking water supplies and people being forced to evacuate, never repeats itself. Yet no matter what action is taken, it will be costly for the city and all of Bavaria.  Floodwaters are expected to reach Regensburg, located northwest of the city, where it will crest at 6.8 meters, smashing a 130-year old record. Already people are being evacuated and sandbags are being used to keep the floodwaters out of the city center.

 

Halle (Saale): Even the town in Saxony-Anhalt with best-kept secret could not avoid the floodwaters, as the Saale River flooded its banks and portions of the suburb Neustadt and the city center are underwater as of present. The city, where Georg Friedrich Handel was born, set a new record this morning as water levels reached 8.05 meters. This was the first time water levels were that high in 400 years. Workers are trying feverishly to strengthen the dikes to minimalize the effects of the flooding. The annual Handel Music Festival, scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled due to flooding. The author was there for the Christmas market last December and you can view the article here. Yet keep in mind, the famous cathedral and market square shown in the pictures, are all under water at this time. Not a great sight for people like Handel.

Dresden: The people in Dresden are also scrambling to ensure that a repeat of the 2002 floods doesn’t happen again. During the last flood, the waters of the Elbe River set an all time mark of 9.4 meters, flooding 90% of the old town and low-lying areas. While lessons have been learned from this disaster and flood barriers have been built to withstand future floods, it is unknown whether it will help this time. At the moment, the river is at 8.43 meters and increasing by the hour. It is expected to crest by tomorrow. People are waiting and praying that the 11-year old record is not broken.

Magdeburg and Lauenburg:  Yet even when the flooding in Saxony is over (but after breaking records in many cities affected), residents in cities along the Elbe River are preparing for the worst and expecting the Elbe to set new records. In Magdeburg, north of Halle (Saale), the river is expected to creat at 6.9 meters, breaking an all-time record set in 2002 by 18 centemeters. In Lauenburg in Schleswig-Holstein, located southeast of Hamburg, the community is expected to break its own record of eight meters by 80 centimeters by the weekend. The eight meter mark was set two years ago, when rains in the northern half caused flooding in that area.

Even as the flooding has passed in areas like western Saxony and Thuringia, the waters have left their mark in many places, with multiple bridges destroyed, houses and schools sustaining damage and even sports complexes and stadiums being considered not useable at the moment. While the roads are reopened to traffic and many people are returning to their homes, many are facing the daunting task of rebuilding from the bottom up. Yet for some who have lived through the flooding twice in 11 years, some difficult decisions will be made to determine whether living next to a river is a good idea, or if it makes sense to start over on higher ground. While some cities, like Fargo-Moorhead have taken the initiative to buy out homes located along major rivers to construct dikes and waterways to divert floodwaters away from the city center, such projects would be too costly over here given the geographical ciscumstances. Therefore the decision on what to do next lies solely on the people affected.

 

The Flensburg Files is taking stories of people affected by the Great Flood of 2013 in the English language. If you have a story about the flood that you would like to share with the reader, please send it to Jason Smith at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com and it will be posted. Your name will be annonymous if requested. Photos are welcome and highly encouraged.

Links to the flooding with photos can be found here:

http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/unwetter636.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/hochwasser846.html

http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/06/04/world/europe/100000002262015/flood-across-central-europe.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/06/03/europe-floods-060313.html

 

Land Under in Germany!

Massive Flooding in eastern and southern Germany. 200-year flood expected. Other countries affected.

This May was supposed to be the month where we would enjoy the highest number of holidays of the year in Germany.  Almost half the days (and floating holidays) were spent for May Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day (Männertag), Kid’s Day and Pentecost this year, making the month the year with the most number of holidays except for December (if you count Advent and the Christmas- New Year vacation). Yet many people fought unseasonably cold and rainy weather this past month, as the theory of April Showers Bring May Flowers became May Showers bring this….

Burgau Bridge under water. The bridge spans the Saale River in Jena in eastern Thuringia. Photo taken on 2 June, 2013

That’s right! June floods.  German and European meteorologists have declared May as the wettest year ever recorded. And the most recent torrential downpours occurring last weekend has caused rivers in the region to rise rapidly. In many cases the water levels have surpassed the records set by the last major flood in 2002, which cut Germany into two because of the flooding along the Elbe River.  This time around however, the problem areas are the eastern parts of Germany, in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, but also all of Bavaria and parts of Baden Wurtemberg.  Here are some of the highlights of the flooding so far, which will indeed surpass that of the Great Flood of 2002:

Thuringian Towns evacuated:  While cities like Jena, Gera and Erfurt are mostly underwater forcing cities to cancel classes in schools and traffic to be diverted away from the flooded areas, many towns along the Saale, White Elster and Ilm Rivers are being forced to evacuate. This includes the town of Gossnitz, located east of Gera. All 3000 inhabitants of the town were forced to evacuate yesterday as the Pleisse River flooded its banks thanks to a dam breaking nearby.  Evacuations were seen in Greiz as all of the city center is under water because of the White Elster. The city of 29,000 is now cut off from the rest of the world with no end in sight. Many houses are in danger of collapse, with a couple of them actually occurring east of Jena in the town of Stadtroda. Photos of the flooding can be seen here.

Saxony Reliving 2002 again:  Flooding has hit home in Saxony again for the first time in 11 years. Grimma, Eilenburg, Meissen, Zwickau and Chemnitz last saw the rath of flood waters in 2002, where water levels were so high that it destroyed buildings and bridges. Residents are reliving the floods again as the rivers have overrun their banks and many people are evacuating to higher grounds. Yet lessons learned from the last floods are making this fight a bit easier, with better dikes and a better system of informing people of catastrophes ahead of time. The water levels of the Mulde, White Elster and other smaller streams are still rising and flooding is expected to reach Leipzig in the coming days. In Dresden, the Elbe is also on the rise, but has not caused as much damage as in 2002,, when all of the city center was under water. But the town is not out of the woods just yet. See photos here.

Passau sets the mark again- other parts of Bavaria under water:  Located at the junction of the Inn and Danube Rivers at the German, Austrian and Czech borders, the Bavarian city of 200,000 inhabitants has had a history of flooding in the historic inner city. The last time it was flooded was in 2002, where river levels set the mark at 9.5 meters. That was broken overnight long after the residents were evacuated by boat and helicopter. The mayor expects the river to reach the level of 12-13 meters by the end of today. This will shatter the all time record of 10.5 meters set in 1954. With the second worst flooding disaster in 11 years, many people are fearing that the worst is yet to come after the water levels go down.  But Passau is not the only area affected. Massive downpours in the last couple weeks have turned rivers, like the Danube into the Red Sea, as many cities along the river, including Ingolstadt and Donauworth, are partially underwater. In Rosenheim, floodwaters destroyed a dam, forcing the evacuation of many portions of the city. Train service in and out of the city of 150,000 has been suspended, which includes cutting the line between Munich and Salzburg. The situation has gotten worse in the last 48 hours and even the state minister has predicted that this will be the worst flooding in at least 200 years. Photos of the flooding can be seen here.

While we know that the situation will improve over the next week, the most recent flooding is a sign that the worst is yet to come and we have to make changes to ensure that we have a decent livelihood. It not only means better protection against flooding, but it also means tackling our main cause of these weather abnormalities, which is climate change. We have made some progress, yet as we have seen with the recent floods in Germany and neighboring Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland, more is needed to ensure that the impact from climate change is minimal. I’m closing this with a series of pictures taken on the flooding in Jena, in eastern Thuringia yesterday. 60% of the community of 120,000 was underwater at that time, which included parts of the south of Jena, the sports complex and the industrial areas of Nord and Göschwitz. Since then, the situation has improved thanks to the Saale River cresting last night and traffic is returning to normal. Yet, like many cities in Germany, classes are cancelled for today and tomorrow, allowing the city some time to clean up. The photos can be seen on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page.