With continued flooding along rivers in eastern and northern Germany on Tuesday, the country faced a shortage of sandbags, and was forced to ask its neighbors for deliveries to reinforce dikes and levees.
"This has never happened before," government sources speaking on the condition of anonymity told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The German Interior Ministry also confirmed that sandbag supplies are running preciously low.
"So far, 1.65 million empty sandbags have been delivered to Germany from abroad," a spokesman said. They are being distributed to the areas in need.
Most of the bags have been provided by neighboring countries including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Denmark.
In recent days, millions of sandbags have been stacked to prevent dikes from breaching across the country.
On Tuesday, flood waters continued their way north along the Elbe River into the states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein, where there were concerns that dikes could succumb to the massive force.
Federal police and Bundeswehr soldiers managed to patch up one dike that had created some of the most dramatic scenes of flooding on Monday, in the village of Fischbeck in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. A number of small homes have been destroyed there, and only the rooftops of many buildings are above water level.
Soldiers threw sandbags on the 50-meter (164-foot) break to bring the dike under control. According to officials in the local county of Stendal, around 11,300 people in the surrounding area had to be evacuated.
High Water Levels to Continue
But officials had to combat broken or breached dikes in other parts of the state along the powerful Elbe River as well. Meanwhile, an important railway bridge that connects high-speed train lines from Cologne and Frankfurt to Berlin remained closed, leading to long delays.
In Magdeburg, hit this weekend by heavy flooding, water levels sank on Tuesday to 6.85 meters, down from 7.46 meters at the peak of flooding. The river's normal level in the city is 2 meters. Although parts of the city remain evacuated, 3,000 residents were able to return to their homes.
Flooding remained far less dramatic in most places than that seen in recent days in cities like Passau in Bavaria, though high water levels are still expected for days to come in parts of northern Germany. "That's why members of the dike watch are still deployed so that they can ensure that breaches can be found in time," a spokeswoman in the district of Lüchow-Dannenberg said.
€12 Billion in Damage?
As salvage and repair work begins in areas of Germany affected by the floods in towns like hard-hit Deggendorf in Bavaria, it is becoming clear that the natural disaster has left billions of euros of damages in its wake. An official with the rating agency Fitch said Tuesday the floods could cause a total of €12 billion (around $16 billion) in damage. That would exceed the €11.6 billion in damage caused by historic flooding of Germany in 2002.
The debate over who will pay for it is already flaring up. German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler has said he would like to provide a lump sum from a flood aid fund to assist victims. He told a public radio station that both the federal government and the states should pay into the fund. After the disastrous floods of 2002, the government created a similar relief fund. "It proved itself," he said. But the minister did not indicate how large a new one might be.
Charity organizations around Germany are accepting donations for people who have lost their homes, but many have complained that contributions have been low compared to the generosity shown during the 2002 floods.
"There was a massive wave of donations in 2002," German Red Cross spokeswoman Stephanie Krone told the German news agency DPA. "Back then we collected €140 million in donations. But it hasn't been that strong this time."