by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) June 08, 2013
Returning home to mud and stagnant water, flood-hit Czechs said better preparation and safety measures had saved them from being as hard-hit by floodwaters as they were a decade ago.
Residents are still haunted by memories of the "flood-of-the-century" that swept the country in 2002, killing 17 people and leaving behind damage to buildings some of which remain unrepaired to date.
Officials had underestimated the floodwaters back then, with Prague mayor Igor Nemec calling the situation "absolutely excellent" moments before the capital's underground was flooded.
"The authorities are better prepared this time, everything went faster," Zuzana Wildova, a young volunteer in the capital's Lahovicky suburb who also helped out at the 2002 flood, told AFP.
Whereas several underground stations were underwater and took months to reopen then, this time the metro resumed operation after three days, thanks in part to anti-flood measures taken in the last decade.
The floods brought on by torrential spring rain that have swept through central Europe for the past week have killed at least 14 people, 10 of them in the Czech Republic.
Emptying a house of a bucket of water to pour into a drain Friday, Wildova said the flood barriers had played a major role in staving off the havoc of 2002.
"The barriers helped a lot and they were built faster," she said in a neighbourhood reeking of stagnant water.
Firefighters erected 17 kilometres (11 miles) of the barriers in Prague alone, saving most of the city centre.
In financial terms, the 2002 flooding caused damage worth 73 billion koruna, equivalent to 94 billion koruna (3.7 billion euros, $4.9 billion) today.
While it is too soon to pinpoint a sum this time -- with rivers not yet back to their regular levels -- Prague-based analyst Jan Bures expected the damage to be in the 10-20 billion koruna range.
"I don't think the floods could seriously threaten the Czech economy," the CSOB bank analyst said, adding that the disaster may in fact boost the construction sector.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas for his part said damage could reach "a two-digit figure" in billions of koruna.
Residents say the country avoided as much negative impact this time thanks to floodwaters that did not rise as fast or as high.
"In 2002, we had 20-30 centimetres (eight-12 inches) of water on the second floor," said Karel Singer, a Lahovicky resident in his eighties.
"Now we have just have a metre on the ground floor," he told AFP.
According to the water company Povodi Vltavy, a monitoring station in the south of Prague recorded floodwaters rising at over 3,000 cubic metres per second on Tuesday, against 5,160 on August 14, 2002.
Despite faster mobilisation than a decade ago, officials have still drawn criticism, with some people questioning why there was flooding at all given the lower water levels.
Josef Rihak, the governor of badly-hit central Bohemia, noted this week that dams up the Vltava river from Prague could have let water flow faster if officials "had built the defences earlier in Prague".
But people in the streets said they were happy with steps taken by the authorities.
"It's better than it was in 2002. I think the city handled it quite well this time," Jindrich, a man in his fifties, told AFP this week while watching the floodwaters sweep through Prague.
While officials built dykes in many places swept up by the 2002 flood, the village of Zalezlice for example has failed to build a solid system since that disaster.
Flattened at the last flood, that village north of Prague suffered again this time, though the damage was not as extensive.
While some residents blamed authorities for acting slowly, others noted that landowners had decided not to sell plots for the dykes, which prompted a reaction from the farm ministry.
"I am convinced we should treat the construction of anti-flood dykes just like any other publicly beneficial project," Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl said Thursday.
"If there's no deal with the owners, we will have to start expropriating."
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