Cities in Czech Republic, Germany brace for floods

PRAGUE (AFP) - Cities in Germany and the Czech Republic were scrambling on Wednesday to stave off potential disaster as a flood wave headed north, sending thousands of people fleeing their homes.

Hungary has also declared a state of alert as waters surge in the mighty Danube, which is also threatening cities in Austria.

In the Czech Republic, where eight people have already perished in the floods, thousands of households in the north were without power, gas and drinking water.

Several cities in the north of the Czech Republic and eastern Germany are threatened by the surging waters of the Elbe river after torrential rains across swathes of central Europe.

In the German city of Dresden, near the Czech border, several hundred people have been evacuated as water levels in the Elbe were forecast to reach up to nine metres.

"I had to sleep at my grandma's house and my mum stayed with a friend," said one boy as he helped shift sand bags in Dresden.

Across the Czech Republic, over 19,000 have been evacuated since the floods began, firefighters' spokeswoman Nicole Zaoralova said.

Water levels in the Elbe were expected to peak in the Czech industrial city of the Usti nad Labem on Wednesday, said Mr Jiri Petr, a spokesman for the Povodi Labe water company.

The rising river has already forced 3,700 people from their homes in Usti nad Labem, which lies about 30km from the German border, and flooded the local railway station.

The water levels expected in Usti nad Labem are close to those recorded in 2002 when massive flooding swept central Europe, killing 17 people in the Czech Republic alone.

In addition to the eight people already declared dead, Czech police are still searching for four missing people.

From Usti, the mass of water will head downstream to eastern Germany, where cities on the Elbe, including Dresden and Magdeburg, are bracing for the flood.

In Magdeburg, authorities declared a state of emergency and said they expected the river, normally at 2m, to rise to almost 7m - higher than in 2002.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 100 million euros (S$164 million) in emergency aid for flood-ravaged areas.

The floods plaguing central Europe since last weekend have also claimed two lives in Austria and one in Switzerland.