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Merkel pledges €100 million in flood aid

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged €100 million in emergency aid for flood-ravaged areas on Tuesday, as surging waters that have claimed lives and forced tens of thousands of evacuations across Europe bore down on Germany.

Merkel pledges €100 million in flood aid
Photo: DPA

Heavy rains across central Europe have turned vast regions into lakes, severed transport links and left historic city centres under muddy brown water, recalling devastating floods that killed dozens of people 11 years ago.

Merkel, visiting the flooded southern city of Passau, where three rivers meet, said the emergency cash would be disbursed in an unbureaucratic way because “what’s important now is that the aid quickly reaches the people.”

The waters there peaked late Monday at 12.89 metres (42 feet) – the highest level since 1501.

Some residents could be seen paddling canoes down flooded streets in the city where drinking water, power and phone services were cut.

Across the region, the official death toll rose to 11 as Czech emergency services recovered the body of a man from the swollen Male Labe river in the northern Krkonose mountain range, near the border with Poland.

The deluge had already killed seven others in the Czech Republic, including a woman who was hit by an uprooted tree as she walked her dog. Two others died in Austria and one in Switzerland.

Across much of the swamped region, rail, road and river traffic links were cut, schools and factories closed and hospitals evacuated.

In Prague, the flood water hit its highest level on Tuesday after inundating the city centre, displacing more than 8,000 people and forcing the night-time evacuation of the city’s zoo.

“It’s peaking in Prague right now,” said Petr Dvorak, spokesman for the Czech Hydrometeorogical Institute, adding that by evening the high waters would be 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the border with Germany.

Germany, already hit by its worst floods in decades in southern and eastern regions, braced for worse to come as masses of river water approached down the Vltava which merges with the Elbe River.

The German defence forces said they had deployed 4,000 troops for disaster relief in four states, securing dykes with sandbags, providing food, shelter and clothes for displaced people and monitoring water-logged areas from helicopters.

Merkel took a helicopter tour of flood-hit areas in the southern state of Bavaria, then visited Passau, where she said the floods appeared worse than those of 2002.

“The damage and the loss of income is a long-term matter. And that’s why our support will not cease,” said the chancellor, who faces an election in four months.

On a later stop in the Elbe city of Pirna, where waters were still rising, she said: “We will stand by the side of the people who are suffering.”

Other towns and districts in the states of Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony have also raised the alarm.

In Magdeburg on the Elbe, city authorities declared a state of emergency and said they expected the river, normally at two metres, to rise to almost seven metres – higher than in 2002.

More than 30,000 sandbags were being filled to strengthen the city’s flood defences.

Several events were cancelled, including a music festival dedicated to Baroque composer Georg Friedrich Händel planned for June 6th -16th in and around the eastern city of Halle.

In Austria, the Danube was also expected to reach its highest point on Tuesday. More than 20,000 firefighters, police and rescue workers and 800 soldiers were mobilised.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a state of emergency in some areas along the Danube, which was expected to peak Wednesday in western areas and hit Budapest by the weekend.

The government had mobilised 8,000 soldiers, 8,000 emergency personnel, 1,400 water management experts and 3,600 police officers, he said at a press conference.

AFP/jcw

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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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