2002 European floods
Flooded Elbe in Dresden August 2002
In August 2002 a flood caused by over a week of continuous heavy rains ravaged Europe, killing dozens, dispossessing thousands, and causing damage of billions of euros in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Croatia. The flood was of a magnitude expected to occur roughly once a century.
Development of the floods
Flooding resulted from the passage of two Genoa low pressure systems (named Hanne and Ilse by the Free University of Berlin) which brought warm moist air from the Mediterranean northwards. The effects of El Niño are believed to have possibly contributed although others disagree. The floods started with heavy rainfall in the Eastern Alps, which resulted in floods in Northern Italy, Bavaria and the Austrian states of Salzburg and Upper Austria. The floods gradually moved eastwards along the Danube, although the damage in the large cities on its shores was not as severe as in the areas affected by the floods later.
When the rainfall moved northeast to the Bohemian Forest and to the source areas of the Elbe and Vltava rivers, the result were catastrophic water levels first in the Austrian areas of Mühlviertel and Waldviertel and later in the Czech Republic, Thuringia and Saxony. Rivers changed their courses in unexpected ways, catching residents off guard. Several villages in Northern Bohemia, Thuringia and Saxony were more or less destroyed by rivers changing their courses or massively overflowing their banks.
The floods that hit Europe during August 2002 were part of a larger system that was also affecting Asia. Within Europe, however, the areas that sustained significant damage included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Ukraine. Several rivers in the region, including the Vltava, Elbe and Danube reached record highs.
Prague received significant damage from what were deemed to be the worst floods ever to hit the capital. The flow of Vltava culminated at 5300 m³/s, 20% more than during the flood of 1845. Among the regions of the capital city most severely affected were: Karlín, Kampa and Holešovice, where there was significant risk of building collapse. Most of Prague's art work was saved due to advanced warning of high water levels, however there was significant damage to the Prague Metro subway system, much of which was completely flooded.
Prague's Jewish Quarter also received significant damage, a part of the estimated $30 million in damage to Czech cultural sites including: the Prague Municipal Library, Malá Strana, the National Theatre and Terezín.
The evacuations before the worst of the flooding have been cited as one of the reasons for relatively little loss of life in the capital. An estimated 40,000 people were evacuated from Prague. One of the most visible victims of the summer's flood was Gaston, a sea lion from the Prague Zoo who swam to Germany following the flooding of his aquarium. For some time, it was believed he would survive, however he died following capture in Dresden.
In Germany, the flooding was significant in that it destroyed a lot of the work that had been done throughout the country since unification in 1990, especially the town of Grimma in the former East Germany.
Dresden received significant damage when the Elbe River reached an all-time high of 9.4 meters (30.8 feet). More than 30,000 people were evacuated from various neighborhoods throughout the city and some of the city's cultural landmarks were considered to be at risk.
Dresden's Zwinger Palace, home to a significant number of Europe's artistic treasures including Raphael's Sistine Madonna was at risk from the flooding Elbe, however all of the art works were able to be saved. The Semper Opera House also suffered damage.
The Black Sea Coast region was among the most severely hit regions of Russia with significant loss of life due to a tornado that hit the tourist region and destroyed homes. This was after earlier summer floods in southern Russia. All told, damage in the region was calculated at more than $400 million.
Although all of Europe was affected to some degree or another from the record rains that fell, some cities were spared the severe flooding that hit Dresden and Prague.
Although the Danube reached record highs, both Bratislava and Vienna were spared significant flooding. Bratislava's sparing was due to the city's flood protection measures, which withstood the water, while it was generally believed that Vienna was spared significant damage due the city's engineering, and plans were undertaken to see if such work could be applied to the other cities as well.
Once the water levels returned to normal and residents returned to their home, they faced not only the damage left by the rising waters but also threats of disease due to decaying waste and food. The damage increased due to flooding of sewage treatment plants and the risk of damage to chemical plants.
Even once the waters began to recede, the work in the region was not yet complete. European leaders gathered in Berlin to discuss the effects of the floods and to create a better understanding of how to prevent such disaster in the future. This meeting garnered some criticism as Russia, which had suffered significant damage, was not invited to what was billed as a meeting of EU members and future members. The EU leaders did promise aid to the central European countries that suffered the most under the floods with monies coming from the EU's structural budget and this outreach to non-members was seen as symbolic in an effort to portray a truly united Europe.
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