The worst flooding to strike Poland in more than a decade continued on its destructive path on Tuesday, leaving behind it apocalyptic scenes and 15 dead. Much of the flooding has been centered on the Oder and Vistula rivers, and the flood surge is expected to reach Germany later this week as it pushes north towards the border.
Flooding on Poland's Vistula River northwest of Warsaw, which experienced some of the heaviest damage over the weekend, continued to intensify on Monday. The situation is "worse than expected," Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller told reporters. After the banks burst on the river near the city of Plock, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Warsaw, 18 communities had to be evacuated. And the Polish media is reporting that the Vistula had flooded an area of around 8,000 hectares (around 20,000 acres), including 23 towns and villages.
In order to protect other towns, Polish authorities on Monday blew up dikes at several locations, news channel TVN24 reported. The authorities are hoping that these measures will lead the Vistula to flow back into its river bed.
Around 4,000 people and thousands of animals were evacuated. But officials on Monday worried that thousands more living in the towns of Gabin and Slubice on the border with Germany could be at risk.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited some of the sites most heavily hit by flooding on Tuesday and has promised the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in aid. Despite better weather conditions, the situation is not expected to return to normal in the next few days.
Officials Plead with Population to Evacuate Faster
On Monday, Polish police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski confirmed in Warsaw that 15 people had died so far in flooding in the country. He called on people living in the areas threatened by flooding to evacuate as soon as they are given warning by local authorities. He said that too many people had delayed evacuating out of fears their homes would be robbed -- a decision he described as highly risky. After a dike broke in Swiniary near Plock on Sunday, many people, including children, had to be evacuated by helicopter because they had waited too long to leave.
In Swiniary, as much as 800 cubic meters (over 28,000 cubic feet) of water per second flowed through the breach in the dike. In order to stop the water, tons of sand were dropped in an effort to plug the breach. Hundreds of firefighters and soldiers and a number of helicopters were deployed in the effort.
Although the capital city has been spared the worst, Warsaw is still threatened with flooding. The city has closed 120 schools and nursery schools because of the flood threat.
Kaczynski Calls for 'Solidarity'
In his first public appearance since the death of his twin brother, Lech in April, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is running for the office of president formerly held by his sibling, called for solidarity with the flood victims. Instead of holding a political rally planned for his campaign for the June 20 election, he spoke at a charity concert for the flooding victims. "We Poles have the ability to stand together in very hard situations," the 60-year-old political opposition leader said. "This is our strength. This is our solidarity, which builds great moments in our history."
In Germany, preparations are also being ramped up for the possibility of severe flooding. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, where the Oder River forms the natural border between Germany and Poland, water levels began to rise on Monday. In the cities of Ratzdorf and Eisenhüttenstadt, officials triggered the first level of flood warnings.
On Tuesday, water levels are expected to climb even higher, and flood warnings are expected to spread to other communities. A low pressure front over the past week has led to constant rain and bad flooding in the Czech Republic, Poland and in the Balkans.
'We Are Well Prepared'
The flood peak is expected to reach the German stretch of the Oder River by the end of the week, said Eberhard Schmidt of the Center for Flood Monitoring in Frankfurt an der Oder, a city located on the German-Polish border. By then, he said, water levels are expected to be significantly higher than those required to declare alarm level three, the second-to-highest level. Floods are first considered catastrophic when they hit level four.
For many, the disaster unfolding in recent days has been reminiscent of the devastating 1997 Oder River floods, but Brandenburg state Environment Minister Anita Tack of the Left Party told public radio station RBB the state was better prepared this time. "Together with the disaster services and the depot in Beeskow, where sand bags and technical equipment is being stored, we are well prepared," Tack said.
Flooding devastated the region for three weeks in July 1997, leading to the deaths of over 100 people, mostly in Poland and the Czech Republic, and causing billions in damage.
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