August 25, 2005

Swiss brace for more floods, Romanian toll rises

By Pilar Wolfsteller

LUCERNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Helicopters ferried food
to an Alpine resort on Thursday and plucked people from roofs
in the capital Berne as flood-ravaged Switzerland braced for
more rain.

In Romania, one of the countries worst hit by the downpours
that lashed parts of central Europe earlier this week, the
death toll from flooding rose by six to 31 on Thursday, with
another three people missing, including a 4-year-old girl.

The torrential rains forced lakes and rivers to burst their
banks from Berne to Bucharest, cutting roads, power and
communications to hundreds of communities and causing damage
estimated at worth well over $1 billion in Switzerland alone.

In Berne, helicopters lifted residents from roofs and
balconies of their homes in the oldest part of town where they
were trapped by the waters. Officials fear centuries-old
buildings could be swept away.

In Lucerne sandbags protected shops and homes and residents
watched anxiously as the river Reuss rushed perilously close
beneath the city's covered 14th-century wooden bridge -- a
national landmark.

"Right now the water level is falling, but we just do not
know what is going to happen next," civil protection official
Rene Bieri told Reuters.

Forecasters said the weather could get worse with a further
20-30 millimetres (around an inch) of rain expected later in
the week over Switzerland.

Driftwood has been swept into lakes and rivers and now
threatens to smash bridges and other installations, rescue
officials said.


The Swiss army was using Puma helicopters to supply the
scenic mountain resort of Engelberg, which has been cut off
since Monday by rain which also sent part of the railway line
plunging down a ravine.

One of 700 tourists evacuated by air on Wednesday from the
village told Swiss television they had been without hot food,
clean water and electricity.

Not all tourists were unhappy. "It was like a carnival here
last night, with everybody crowding the streets," said
Australian Ray Condon as he squeezed along a wooden walkway in
Lucerne. "Everybody was out taking pictures."

But the Swiss authorities have warned sightseers to stay
away from the waters, worried about a sudden rise in river
levels or more flash floods.

In southern Germany, a 28-year-old man drowned when he
ventured out with two friends in a dinghy which capsized on the
River Mangfall near the town of Feldkirchen-Westerham.

He was the first person to die in Germany in the floods,
which have turned regions of Bavaria into disaster zones. The
other two men were rescued in the incident late on Wednesday.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, interrupting his campaign
schedule for parliamentary elections in just over three weeks,
was visiting regions hit by the floods on Thursday.

Bavarian authorities said the crisis had eased in several
areas but the situation remained critical along parts of the
River Danube.


In Romania, the latest deaths were from the Transylvanian
region of Harghita. "I lost everything," a young villager told
Realitatea TV station. "I saw floodwaters carry away a big bus
parked near my home."

Floods across the country have killed 67 so far this year.
The government estimates the damage as worth 1.5 billion euros.

Eight people have died and thousands were evacuated from
their homes in Switzerland and Austria, where the toll rose to
four on Thursday when searchers found the body of an
81-year-old man missing since his car tumbled into a swollen

Austrian crews were using heavy equipment to clear away
tons of mud, gravel and rocks dumped inside hundreds of homes,
hotels and businesses in mountain valleys in Vorarlberg and
neighboring Tyrol province.

"You feel like you have fallen into a deep hole," homeowner
Hubert Brunner told the Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung
about losing his house, ripped apart by water and rocks when
the neighboring river flooded.