Hungarians refuse to flee worst flooding in history
BUDAPEST, April 17 (AFP) - Flooding on Hungary's second biggest river remained "critical" Monday as authorities urged people to evacuate -- but many are refusing to leave their homes despite record water levels
"I will stay and help as long as I can," one woman from the northern Tiszasuely, where water levels passed the 11-metre (35 feet) mark with a dyke collapsing along 60 metres (yards), told state television.
Authorities decided to evacuate 4,000 women, children and elderly people Sunday from the northern villages of Tiszasuely, Koetelek and Hunyadfalva, but three quarters of them stayed, the local mayors said.
"How could one leave a home built through a life's work," an elderly widow from Koetelek told state radio, sobbing.
The Hungarian parliament extended Friday a state of emergency the government declared a week ago, releasing 37 billion forints (134 million euros) for flood protection.
So far one person has died in the flooding in Hungary, while the deluges have claimed nine lives in neighbouring Romania.
Water management officials said that a new flood wave was approaching the Tisza on the Somes river due to melting snow in the Carpathian mountains in Romania and Ukraine.
In parts of the country river water levels have swollen to a depth well beyond 10-metre (32-feet), cutting off villages, roads and train services, and threatening some 6,500 homes with devastation.
On Sunday, two houses collapsed in the northern Tiszavarkony due to water seeping through the saturated dykes.
More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the north so far. They were mainly children and the elderly who were put up in school gym halls or community centers in nearby villages.
But army tents and makeshift hygienic facilities were on hand to accommodate more people, catastrophe prevention officials said.
Officials predict that water levels could remain critically high for 20 days, as 15,000 people were on the dykes Monday to quell minor flows from the seeping structures.
During the weekend, some 20,000 worked daily including more than 2,000 soldiers and thousands of volunteers, as army helicopters delivered tons of sand to saturated dykes that were unable to take the weight of vehicles.
But several residents, including those in Koetelek, said the evacuation orders were "premature," and said they had much to do to strengthen their dykes.
"We shall not force anyone to leave," replied government commissioner Kalman Katona, the minister responsible for water management.
"Evacuating officials will be patient and understanding," he added during a visit to Tiszasuely late Sunday.
According to national technical protection chief Jozsef Varadi, "the most critical section now is between Kiskoere and Szolnok," a central town of 80,000 inhabitants where authorities had prepared emergency evacuation plans.
"It is better to fear than to get frightened. We have to prepare with the safety measures, but we are not speaking about full-scale evacuation," Katona told journalists.
"The question is how the saturated dykes will withstand the 150-percent pressure for three weeks," he said.
In Szolnok, officials said they would heighten the dykes by another 30 centimetres (one foot) with sandbags until the flood peaks around Tuesday, as the flooding seemed worse than initially expected.
Copyright (c) 2000 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 04/17/2000 06:37:14
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