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Hungarians unite as 'worst-ever' floods threaten Budapest
by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) June 07, 2013

Floods wreak havoc in Switzerland
Geneva (AFP) June 09, 2013 - Heavy rain and hail hit western Switzerland Sunday evening, causing mudslides and floods that blocked roads and a rails and forced more than a dozen people to evacuate, police said.

No-one was injured.

Switzerland had so far been largely spared the havoc wreaked by the worst floods to hit central Europe in a decade, but at around 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) Sunday, violent rain and hail storms hit the western cantons of Vaud and Fribourg, local police said.

The Merine river had swollen and overflowed, flooding the old town in Moudon, filling cellars and prompting police to evacuate 13 people from their homes, "as a safety measure," Vaud police said in a statement.

Several roads were cut off by mudslides, including one linking Lausanne to Bern, although the lane heading towards the Swiss capital was reopened after a few hours. Several other roads in the area would remain closed at least until early Monday, police said.

A rail line connecting Moudon to the small town of Lucens to the north had also been damaged, and would remain closed for several days, the national SBB rail service said.

Nearly 140 rescue workers, police officers and civil protection officers were dispatched in Vaud alone to help deal with the floods.

In the neighbouring canton of Fribourg, police said some 50 rescue workers had been dispatched to help respond to nearly 40 distress calls after hail blocked drains and caused massive flooding in a number of areas.

At least six villages had been affected by floods and mudslides, which especially damaged cellars and roadways, police said.

Budapest braces for record flood surge
Budapest (AFP) June 07, 2013 - Budapest was bracing Friday for what Hungary's prime minister predicted would be record floods, as thousands of Hungarians worked feverishly to reinforce dykes along the banks of the swelling Danube River.

Europe's worst river floods in over a decade have already wreaked devastation in parts of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, and in Hungary the Danube reached record levels in the west of the country.

"It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time," said Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who spent the night at a military barracks in the deluged western city of Gyor, in a statement.

Budapest was expected to be the worst hit on Monday, with forecasters predicting the river will rise to as high as 8.85 metres (29 feet), more than double the levels usually seen at this time of year and some 25 centimetres (10 inches) higher than the last record set in 2006.

Around 10,000 people, including soldiers, worked through the night and into Friday morning reinforcing dykes along some 700 kilometres (435 miles) of the Danube, local media reports said.

So far, about 500 people had been evacuated from their homes around the country. Three towns about 50 kilometres north of Budapest had also been cut off due to the rising water and were receiving supplies by boat and by air.

In the northeast, a flight ban was imposed on Friday afternoon to give helicopters and small planes participating in rescue operations and anti-flood preparations priority.

Orban noted however that recent rain-free days in Austria and Germany, as well as dry, hot weather forecast in Hungary over the weekend, gave some reason for hope that the worst may soon be over.

The floods have killed at least 12 people and have forced mass evacuations across central Europe.

Hungarians are setting aside their differences in a race against time to defend their historic capital Budapest and other areas from what the prime minister predicted will be the "worst floods of all time".

As water levels broke records in the west ahead of an expected peak on Monday, thousands of volunteers joined soldiers and emergency workers -- often crossing traditional social boundaries to make some unlikely alliances -- to roll up their sleeves and don rubber boots.

Students, boy scouts and sports clubs helped to make up and install more than two million sandbags stacked at 16 high-risk locations along the 760 kilometres (475 miles) of the raging Danube River rushing out of Germany and Austria on its way to the Black Sea.

"Hungarians come together at a time of emergency," said one grateful local as she watched workers heave sandbags onto a truck to be taken to a barrier in picturesque, 1.7-million-strong Budapest.

Around 3,000 volunteers, 6,000 emergency service personnel, and the entire Hungarian army have been mobilised across the country. More than 16,000 army, police and civil reservists were also on standby.

The socialists and the right wing have called a temporary truce, and in the northern Romai district of the capital, Roma and the Hungarian National Guard came together in an improbable partnership to fill sandbags.

"If the water is threatening to take your house away no one cares if the person helping you is brown or white," said Gabor Veres, sporting a bright yellow safety vest emblazoned with "Hungarian National Guard".

Normally the organisation, successor to the banned paramilitary Hungarian Guard and close to the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party, is better known for staging intimidating marches through villages populated by the ethnic Roma minority.

Veres, 25, says one of the group's main aims is to help out at "catastrophes" like this.

"It's a media myth that we have an issue with all gypsies, it's only with the criminal ones who cause the problems," he told AFP.

The low-lying Romai area is particularly exposed as the Danube suddenly widens there after curving sharply south from the Slovakian border.

Mayor Istvan Tarlos warned Thursday that if the water rises above 8.75 metres (29 feet) -- more than double the normal depth -- and threatens to burst a barrier in Romai, 55,000 people would have to be evacuated.

-- 'I'd like to think strangers would help me' --

Istvan Szilagyi, a 35-year-old Roma who lives in a nearby village just north of the capital, said he came with some friends to help out his "Hungarian friends".

"We took time off work to do this, we'll work all day today and tomorrow if we're needed and hope that the area will be safe after Monday," he said.

On the other side of the street members of the small leftwing Democratic Coalition party formed another little group filling a row of bags.

"I've made hundreds and hundreds of them, three or four shovels of sand in each, then the others take them away and put them on top of the dyke," said Gabor Szabo, a 65-year-old pensioner who lives close by -- but safe from harm 150 metres (yards) up a steep street.

"I think Jobbik are fascists, but if my house was in danger, then I'd like to think other people, strangers, would come and help me," he said.

"Here everyone is a person, no one's interested in whether you are a Roma, a conservative-nationalist or a Jew, a homeless or a Guard member. The water is just over there, and it's coming."

The Danube was already lapping up against the nine-metre dyke at the end of the street. A second "insurance" barrier is back two streets, 200 metres inland.

So far, only around 500 people nationwide have had to leave their homes and there have been no deaths, although Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Thursday that tens of thousands of people could be evacuated in the coming days.

"It is now clear that we are facing the worst floods of all time," Orban, who spent the night at a military barracks in the deluged western city of Gyor, was quoted as saying in a statement on Friday.

"I don't think we'll have to be evacuated but I've never seen a flood like this before though. It's a little scary," said 60-year-old Szasz Ferencne, who lives a few streets away from the river in Budapest.

"It's great to see them all helping. I don't care where they're from," she added.


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Merkel praises solidarity in fight against floods
Bitterfeld, Germany (AFP) June 06, 2013
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday praised the "wonderful solidarity" of tens of thousands struggling against central Europe's worst river floods in over a decade and promised more help for the victims on her second visit in three days to disaster-hit areas. Vast stretches along the Elbe river basin have been submerged in northeast Germany and upstream in the Czech Republic, with on ... read more

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