Czechia

A year after the flood, Czechs are still cleaning up

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By Eric Johnson, dpa

Prague (dpa) - The temporary X-8 bus still bumps down Prague's flood-damaged streets. Workers are still repairing sections of the Terezin concentration camp memorial.

Across the Czech Republic, thousands of people displaced by the overflowing rivers still wait for homes.

The ongoing recovery from the country's worst flood, a week-long disaster that began exactly a year ago, has been slow indeed.

The flood was an enormous economic and morale setback for the former communist country, which had been striving for a decade to catch up with its developed, wealthy neighbours Germany and Austria.

Officially, the government says the nation's flood damage totalled 73 billion koruna (2.6 billion dollars). But that price tag does not include lost wages, farm losses and other hard-to-trace costs.

Seventeen people died, entire villages were wiped out, chemical factories spilled toxins and some residential areas of Prague were rendered uninhabitable.

The nation's devastated infrastructure included highway bridges, dams, half of Prague's subway system and sewage treatment plants in more than 100 communities.

Prague's important tourist industry has been depressed since its historic district was flooded, and the government has been forced to consider tax hikes to cover its flood-burdened budget deficit.

The country's agriculture and fish-farm industries were hard hit, and some flooded factories will never reopen.

During the summertime flood, triggered by heavy downpours in the country's south, river water rose as high as the Jewish star on a gate at the Terezin concentration camp memorial site north of Prague.

The site, originally built as a Prussian military fortress, has reopened to visitors, but is still under repair.

For the most part "life is back to normal'', said Terezin spokesman Roman Cervenka. Private donations and public funds had helped restore most of the site as well as the town of Terezin over the past year.

But another year of work will be needed to restore Terezin's underground web of passageways which were filled with water for days, Cervenka said.

South of Terezin, tracts of barren farmland in the Labe and Vltava river valleys similarly testify to the country's slow recovery.

Robust cropland was affected by spilled chemicals and sewage waste that washed over the land, although Minister of Agriculture Jaroslav Palas last week said the latest soil tests showed the land was again safe enough to farm.

Even bustling Prague has had trouble getting back on its feet. In the Karlin residential district, for example, only about one-third of the area's 25,000 flood evacuees have returned to their apartments.

Most of the buildings are still under repair, slated for demolition or simply abandoned. Those who have returned ride the X-8 bus to work, as Karlin's damaged streetcar tracks are still torn up.

Reconstruction is continuing in flood-damaged buildings in several other parts of Prague.

Across the country, one group of cultural treasures has successfully undergone post-flood restoration. But for others, the clean-up tasks remain incomplete.

The country's oldest bridges in Prague and Pisek have been reopened, and tourists have returned to the southern town of Cesky Krumlov, where the river sloshed through ground-floor windows of medieval taverns and shops.

But the recovery of a water-damaged Holocaust memorial inside the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague will not be finished until later this year, officials say.

And at least ten years will be needed to repair thousands of historic archives and books that were inundated inside flooded libraries.

Likewise, some flood-ravaged villages have been completely rebuilt on higher ground while others are still waiting for state funds so that apartment buildings can be fixed.

The mayor of Zalhostice, Alena Vackova, says the government's development ministry of dragging its feet with restoration funds.

But the ministry's spokesman Petr Dimun says his agency is doing its best and has already spent 1.9 billion koruna and rebuilt apartments in 22 communities.

Repairs to damaged infrastructure has been a mixed bag as well, but could have been worse if not for aid from other European countries.

The European Union, for example, helped finance repairs to water-treatment plants in Prague, Plzen and Ceske Budejovice.

On Thursday, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin was on hand to inaugurate a new water-quality measuring station on the Labe River, which flows north into Germany as the Elbe. The old station was destroyed by the flood.

dpa ej sc AP-NY-08-07-03 1040EDT

Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/07/2003 10:40:52

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