Societies in Central Europe respond to worst flooding in 50 years

Published: 6 June 2013 11:22 CET

By Giovanni Zambello, IFRC, and German Red Cross

As torrential ravage large areas of Central Europe, Red Cross societies in the region are responding to some of the worst flooding in decades. At least ten people have died in Czech Republic, while thousands have been evacuated from large swathes of Czech Republic, Austria, and south-east Germany, where the floodwaters have damaged infrastructure and brought havoc and disruption to essential services and transportation. More rain is expected in coming days, which may aggravate existing problems.

As the floods move downstream, governments of countries so far affected to a lesser extent by the floods – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland – have declared the state of emergency in the most flood-prone areas. 

With ten reported dead and another nine missing, and suburban Prague under water since last weekend, Czech Republic is among the worst affected countries. In large areas of Bohemia, the Czech Red Cross has been supporting local authorities in the evacuation of people from affected areas – at least 8,000 have reportedly been evacuated – and in the provision of emergency shelters. The National Society has also launched a fundraising initiative in cooperation with media outlets.

In Germany, where many rivers have already broken their banks, causing the death of at least four people and forcing some 10,000 people out of their homes, the German Red Cross is supporting people in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia. The National Society has also set up shelters and used boats and helicopters to evacuate affected areas on overflowing riverbanks, while the national headquarters is coordinating the operations and has issued a call for donations.

“People are now remembering the severe flooding of the Elbe and Oder rivers. We have to spare them a similar traumatic experience as in 1997 and 2002,” said Dr Rudolf Seiters, President of the German Red Cross. “We have established a central coordination unit to manage personnel and resources. We want to ensure that relief items are deployed to the most affected regions as quickly as possible.”

In Austria, where floods and landslides have struck the provinces of Tirol, Vorarlberg, Salzburg, Upper Austria and Lower Austria, the Austrian Red Cross has been working around the clock assisting the authorities with evacuations, distributing relief items, providing emergency medical services and emergency shelters, as well as psychosocial support to both beneficiaries and responders.

Coca-Cola Hellenic, with which the IFRC has an agreement on disaster preparedness and response, has donated pallets of water in Czech Republic and Austria, in support to the relief operations of the National Societies.  

“If rainfall continues, the main concern will be the downstream Danube countries, where the water levels have not peaked yet,“ said Alberto Monguzzi, Disaster Management Coordinator in the IFRC Europe Zone Office. “We are working closely with National Societies in potentially affected countries like Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria to make sure they have updated contingency planning in place, which can enable a swift and smooth response in case the rivers will cause more flooding.”