Lives, homes, memories - the floods spared no-one and nothing in the Czech Republic

Originally published
By Callie Long
Prague/Geneva, March 14, 2003 - At the end of 2002, Luci Svobodníková faced the task of rebuilding her home and her life. Physically. At 76, her hands and clothes bore testimony to the back-breaking work involved in trying to salvage her home of 23 years, that had nearly been destroyed by the floods that hit the small village of Ceské Kopisty in the northern part of the Czech Republic during the fall.

There was no running water and no electricity. Winter would be bitter and spring not much easier. To keep warm, she was burning wood in a small stove upstairs - the part of her house that had not been completely submerged.

"I cried for a long time", she said, echoing what so many other people said when talking to the members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, who had responded to the catastrophic events at the end of August when rivers burst their banks and whole villages were submerged.

In response to the crisis, the Evangelical Church of the Brethren (ECCB), the Czechoslovak Hussite Church (CCSH) and Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HiA) working in partnership with Slovakian Diakonia and Orthodox Church in Czech Lands issued an ACT appeal. Money raised would be used to provide assistance to the families affected by the floods in the Czech Republic, as well as Slovakia and Hungary.

A target of $2,620,497 (US) was set, of which nearly $2,3 million has been received from members within the ACT alliance -- money spent on medicines and medical supplies, psycho-social and pastoral counseling, temporary shelter, the drying and cleaning of people's homes, immediate food and non-food distribution and reconstruction.

In the southern region of the country, the small village of Metly could use the money to slowly rebuild their lives -- often till late at night if needed. In Metly alone, 19 houses were completely destroyed and many more could be declared unsalvageable, according to Dan Apostu of Orthodox Filantropia, the relief agency of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and a member of ACT International.

77-year old Joseph Sloup and his wife, 72-year old Marta Sloupova lived at no. 9 Metly. There was a big wave when a dam wall higher up from the village that gave way, explained Marta. Then a second wave came, she said. "Two minutes ... that's all it took." All that was left of their 5th generation home were a few family photos that someone picked up 2 km from where their house had stood and photos taken of the rubble that remained once the flood water receded.

"So..." said Joseph Sloup, looking around at their temporary home in the primary school of Predmir, a village next to Metly. "It is painful to have lost everything so late in our lives and that we have to start over again, but still, we have our life. Thanks to God."

One man however, did lose his life here, recounted Apostu. In total, 23 homes were destroyed in the two villages, including the house of the deputy mayor of Predmir, Jaroslava Hodkova, who apart from trying to rebuild her own life, had also taken on the care of many of her fellow-villagers who suffered losses -- not only of their homes, but also the loss of jobs when factories and stores were destroyed by the raging water.

For the people of the Czech Republic, the last six months may have been difficult ones, but nonetheless, they took up the challenge to rebuild their lives. Across the country, volunteers from the relief agencies were mobilized and slowly, life began to return to normal.

According to the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands, His Eminence Krystof, the devastating floods of 2002 helped show society that the Church existed in the Czech Republic - a secular country, where Christians are in the minority. Also, it showed that the churches could work together to come to the aid of those who had suffered such severe losses when the flood waters swept through large parts of their country.