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Hungary begins evacuations as flood waters surge toward Budapest

BUDAPEST (AFP) - Hungary began evacuating villages and reinforcing leaking dykes along the rising Danube River on Saturday, as central Europe's worst floods in over a decade headed toward Budapest.

The floods have killed at least 14 people, forced thousands from their homes and have left billions of euros in damage in their wake as they washed over parts of Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In Hungary, the Danube was swelling its way eastward across the country, in many places beating previous historical water levels last set in 2006 in what Prime Minister Viktor Orban predicted would be the country's "worst floods of all time."

Budapest was expected to be the hardest hit on Monday, with forecasters predicting the river will rise to as high as 8.86 metres, more than double the levels usually seen at this time of year and some 25 cm higher than the last record set in 2006.

"We will defend every section of dyke, we won't leave one person inside," Mr Orban told reporters on Saturday.

"Now comes the important part, not to lose any lives," he added.

Emergency workers and volunteers rushed to several locations overnight to reinforce leaking dykes.

Late Friday, all 1,500 inhabitants of the village of Gyorujfalu - close to the city of Gyor in northwest Hungary - were evacuated as the dyke protecting the village weakened after a landslide.

In Budapest, water has covered roads running along the river and Mayor Istvan Tarlos asked residents to minimise the use of cars, ordered the closure of swimming pools and issued new parking restrictions.

Mr Tarlos had said earlier that the most threatened parts of the city - Margaret island in the centre and the Romai residential area north of the city - will be safe unless the water climbs to 9.30 metres, nearly a half metre above the levels predicted.

"It is now certain that the water level will not exceed 9 metres in Budapest," Mr Tarlos said early on Saturday.

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