European Floods – 2002

In August 2002 central and eastern Europe were devastated by floods the like of which had not been seen for over 100 years. The torrential rainfall began in the Alps, where most of the winter snow had already melted, leaving bare ice behind. This meant that the earth could absorb nothing and rainfall poured straight off the mountains as though down a chute. The worst affected countries were Italy, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Russia, while Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Ukraine also suffered.

In Germany much of the work that had been completed since unification in 1990 was wiped out. Bridges and roads as well as factories and homes were partially or wholly destroyed and thousands of people were evacuated. Dresden was badly hit when the River Elbe reached record heights, but despite damage to notable buildings such as the Semper Opera House, its world-famous treasures were saved.

Some regions of the Czech Republic received four times the amount of rainfall expected in August in only 36 hours. Many historic buildings in Prague were damaged, with much of the old town under water and the Metro system partially closed when 17 stations were flooded. Buildings old and new collapsed, and several chemical factories were inundated, raising fears of contamination of the River Elbe by dioxins, mercury and other toxic substances. Some rivers completely changed course, taking local residents by surprise.

Journalists in Austria and the Czech Republic began blaming ‘greedy mayors’ for the disaster, saying that they had levelled forests and built holiday homes on flood plains and river banks.

Russia’s Black Sea coast, at the height of its tourist season, suffered terribly as villages, holiday apartments, tents, cars and people were swept away to sea.

When: August 11-17 2002

Where: Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia.

Death toll: 109 people were killed directly by the floods.

You should know: It seems likely that the rain was exacerbated by the El Nino effect and global warming, but possibly it was simply a natural phenomenon that only occurs once every 100-200 years.

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