Eastern Germany one year
TWIG - One year ago, torrential rains inundated eastern Germany. The resulting floods along the Elbe River destroyed homes and businesses, threatened landmarks and wiped out roads, train tracks and bridges. As the first anniversary of the catastrophic floods approaches, flood victims are still working to recover from the largest deluge in more than a century, but thanks to the generosity of donors - many of them Americans - great strides have already been made.
Over 500 Americans donated some $110,000 to the flood relief effort through the German-American Solidarity Fund alone, for which businesses and homeowners in eastern Germany are especially grateful.
Making a difference
After a prolonged drought, the Elbe’s waters are running at a remarkably low 8cm nowadays. But just a year ago, a barrage of 9 meter-high water swept through eastern Germany, causing widespread chaos and attracting worldwide attention and sympathy. Although the floodwaters reached several states, causing damage upwards of 9.1bn Eur ($10.3bn), Saxony bore the brunt of the blow, with two-thirds of the damage suffered in just that state alone.
In the immediate aftermath, it was not money but a helping hand from neighbors that made a real difference. Images that remain prominent for many are those of Bundeswehr soldiers, relief workers and ordinary citizens working to shore up barriers and later helping to clean up deluged towns and villages. About 40,000 people were involved in barricading and then clean-up, including 20,000 soldiers, units from the Technisches Hilfswerk (Germany’s national disaster relief agency) and volunteer firefighters.
Germany’s federal government has so far spent a total of 7.1bn Eur ($8.1bn) to help flood victims back on their feet. The German Red Cross alone has collected an additional 144 million Eur ($163 million), while the Christian charitable organizations Caritas and Diakonie have each brought in around 60 million Eur ($68 million).
Restoring Saxony’s cultural heritage
The sudden drop in tourism following the floods was a blow to the area’s economy, but now both the word famous Zwinger Palace and the Semper Opera are up and running again. But images of the overwhelming devotion to the city’s historical treasures - such as that of last minute volunteers scrambling to protect the Old Masters gallery in the Zwinger Palace - are etched still into the local memory.
Public libraries fared worse. In some cases, freezing mud-caked books was the only means of safeguarding against the onset of mold, a death sentence for publications. Many of Germany’s public libraries pledged to provide the state with bestsellers, and for months the basis of many collections consisted merely of books that were previously checked-out and returned to the libraries after the flooding. At the cost of $4 per pound of paper, few publications other than those deemed of cultural and historical significance could be salvaged.
No lasting damage
The hardest hit region - Saxony - looks poised to recover from the disaster, once again living up to its reputation for bouncing back from hard times, having also lived through two massive fires and severe bombing in World War II. Saxony’s Economics Minister Andrea Fischer noted that the city has survived the flood without lasting economic damage. "We are aware of no business that has been forced into insolvency from the flood alone," said Fischer. Roughly 12,000 businesses were damaged by the flooding. This year, however, Saxony is expected to enjoy economic growth of 2.2% - well above the nationwide average.
Since August 2002, nearly 71,000 requests for flood relief have been made to the Reconstruction Bank of Saxony, corresponding to a usual request load of several years. Already, 80% of these claims have been settled.
Though the region regularly experiences droughts and floods, measures are being taken to ensure that future floods of such proportions are kept in check. For example, in Potsdam, a dike at a 90 degree turn in the river - nicknamed the "Evil Spot" since the flooding - has been moved to allow the river to flow more freely.
Meanwhile, people are taking their own precautions. Residents have been warned against installing heating or electrical units in basements. Similarly, concrete slabs built under the foundations of newer homes will be avoided, as they are forced upwards by groundwater during flooding. In general, older homes fared better than newer ones during last year’s floods.
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