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Nine dead in Poland floods, high-water reaches Warsaw

Emergency service workers reinforce a barrier with sandbags against dangerously high waters on the right bank of the Wisla River in Warsaw May 23, 2010. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) May 21, 2010
The death toll from floods which have swept Poland for the past week rose to nine on Friday, officials said, as the waters which have battered the south finally reached the capital Warsaw.

"Nine people have died, and three are missing. The latest victim was a 70-year-old man who drowned in his house in Tarnobrzeg," national rescue service spokesman Pawel Fratczak told AFP, referring to a town in the southeast.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Friday presented parliament with a report on the floods sparked by torrential rains, saying their scale was "without precedent in the past 160 years".

"We're talking about damage worth about 10 billion zlotys" (2.43 billion euros, 3.28 billion dollars), he said. "The situation in the River Vistula basin is much worse than in the last major floods of 1997."

If the cost of flood damage is found to have exceeded 2.1 billion euros, Poland can formally request help from a European Union crisis fund, Tusk's chief aide Michal Boni told parliament. That would unlock 100 million euros of EU money.

At Poland's request, the 27-nation EU formally kicked off an emergency operation on Wednesday.

Among the individual EU member states who have so far sent rescuers and equipment were France, Germany, the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and Poland's neighbour the Czech Republic, which has also been hit by floods.

Boni said that 23,000 people had been evacuated from flood-hit regions, out of a total affected population of 100,000.

The Vistula winds in an s-shape across Poland for 1,050 kilometres (650 miles) from the mountainous south to the Baltic Sea in the north.

The swollen river has been bursting its banks at various points along the way, with southern Poland the hardest-hit region so far. Thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-struck communities, where homes and roads remained submerged on Friday.

The water level in Warsaw had reached 760 centimetres (24.9 feet) on Friday afternoon. Since accurate records began after World War II, the Vistula has only risen above 750 centimetres three times, in 1947, 1960 and 1962.

Authorities in Warsaw, a conurbation of two million people, urged residents of riverside districts to stay alert.

"The danger will grow. The flood-wave is longer than expected and could keep passing through the capital until Sunday evening. It's looking bad," regional governor Jacek Kozlowski told reporters.

"We're not worried about the river actually overflowing. But the dykes will be sodden for so long that they risk bursting at any moment anywhere," he said.

On the River Oder, in western Poland, the situation was not as serious as along the Vistula, Tusk said.

The regional hub of Wroclaw -- a city of 630,000 people which was battered by the 1997 floods -- was bracing for the water to arrive Saturday morning but the local crisis unit said it did not expect the Oder to overflow.

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Race against time in flood-swept Polish town
Sandomierz, Poland (AFP) May 20, 2010
Where residents only days ago trod the streets of the southern Polish town of Sandomierz, rescue workers criss-crossed the floodwater in small metal boats Wednesday, scrambling to evacuate 4,000 people. "The dykes gave way at 3:00 am (0100 GMT) this morning and the evacuation kicked off shortly afterwards," Wieslaw Kulig, a volunteer fire-fighter in the community of 25,000, told AFP. Lik ... read more

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