Red Cross responds to flash floods in central Europe

Published: 10 August 2010 0:00 CET

Giovanni Zambello, IFRC

Flash floods triggered by heavy rains in central Europe – including Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania – have led many Red Cross National Societies to mobilize their volunteers and specialist rescue teams.

The German Red Cross has so far deployed over 200 emergency staff including lifeguards, paramedics and support units in the region of Saxony. Floods in Chemnitz, Saxony’s third-largest city, left many people stranded and in need of rescue. The region around the town of Goerlitz in eastern Germany, as well as other areas along the Neisse river, faced a seven-metre tidal wave after a dam broke in Poland on Sunday evening.

A state of emergency has been declared in Goerlitz and in the German region of Saxon Switzerland, where residents were evacuated and provided with emergency shelter by Red Cross volunteers. The German Red Cross has also been providing meals, not only to evacuees, but also to fire service units and other government relief teams.

At the request of the Czech government, four air rescue specialists from the German Red Cross were brought in by helicopter to assist in Czech rescue operations as many people were stranded on roofs awaiting rescue.

The German Red Cross air rescuers undergo specialist training in order to carry out helicopter rescues. Winching people from the tops of buildings or from water can be a complex operation, particularly in severe weather conditions. This type of air rescue was developed by the German Red Cross, in cooperation with the federal police, after the Elbe river flooded in 2002. There are 25 of these specialist air rescue units in the regions of Saxony, Berlin and Brandenburg.

In the Czech Republic, the flooding crisis escalated over the weekend as more rain fell. Fortunately though, the emergency is only regional – Liberec region in particular was badly damaged – and the overall situation has been stabilized. The Czech Red Cross is on standby to provide flood victims with humanitarian aid and, if necessary, psychosocial support.