August 25, 2005

Flood fears focus on Swiss lakes, Romanian toll up

By Pilar Wolfsteller

BERNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Helicopters ferried food to
isolated Alpine villages on Thursday as residents and rescue
workers feared swollen lakes may overflow and bring more havoc
to flood-ravaged Switzerland.

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

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

In the Swiss capital, police finished evacuating over 1,000
residents from the oldest part of town, fearing centuries-old
buildings could be swept away by a fresh surge in the river
Aare once barrages from the upstream lake Thun were cleared of

"We can cope with lots of water coming from Thun. But if it
is aggravated by rain, which is in the forecast on Friday, we
will have problems," said Franz Maerki, Berne police spokesman.

Firefighters pumped streets and cellars, but water remained
1.5 meter (5 ft) deep in one area, he added.

"Police will not let people return to the quarter because
they fear the water may rise again," said John Hopper, a
British restaurant owner in the city. "They are saying we will
not be allowed back for a week."

In the central city of 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.

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


The Swiss army was using Puma helicopters to supply several
villages, including 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 some 1,200 tourists evacuated since Monday by air
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 Germany's first victim of the floods, which have
turned regions of Bavaria into disaster zones.

At the Benedictine abbey of Weltenburg, Bavaria's oldest
monastery, monks were forced to take safety in upper floors.

"It's a war of nerves," one monk, Brother Benedikt, told
Reuters Television.

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 at 1.5 billion euros.