Hungary defences hold firm as Danube flood nears Budapest

AFP, Sunday 9 Jun 2013

Hungary's flood defences held firm Sunday morning as central Europe's worst floods in a decade moved through the northwest of the country toward the capital Budapest.

So far, however, Hungary has avoided the chaos seen elsewhere in central Europe. No casualties or serious injuries have been reported yet although authorities say around 1,000 people have been evacuated from towns and villages along the river.

So far, around six million sandbags have been used in barriers.

The swollen river is forecast to peak at 8.95 metres (29 feet) in Budapest late Sunday. By morning the water level had already climbed to 8.83 metres, exceeding the previous historic high of 8.60 recorded in 2006.

Authorities in the capital said Sunday that the flood barriers now in place are high enough to protect even the most threatened parts of the city.

"The flood peak is approaching the heart of the country. Two very important days are ahead of us, as the capital is the most densely populated part of the country," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said early Sunday.

Speaking in the town of Esztergom (65 kilometres, 40 miles north of Budapest) where he spent the night, he said the water level there had not increased for hours and that "the city is safe".

The bridge linking Slovakia and Hungary at Esztergom was closed to traffic early Saturday.

Efforts will now focus on the defence of towns and villages between Esztergom and Budapest, he added.

Authorities were forced to bring food and water supplies by boat to three villages cut off due to closed roads -- Pilismarot, Domos and Kisoroszi.

Emergency personnel and volunteers worked non-stop through Saturday and overnight to prop up barriers and dykes as previous record water levels were toppled throughout northwest Hungary.

By Sunday morning, however, water levels in several locations in northwest Hungary began to fall.

In Budapest water has covered roads running along the river since Wednesday, one metro station has been closed, while a special radio station, Flood FM, began broadcasting latest flood news on Saturday.

Heavy rainfall Saturday afternoon hampered workers' efforts to bolster the city's flood barriers and also caused drains to overflow into several streets downtown, forcing authorities to pump the water into the river.

Mayor Istvan Tarlos said Saturday that the most endangered parts of the city -- Margaret island in the centre and the Romai residential area north of the city -- will be safe unless the water climbs to 9.30 metres, nearly a half metre above the forecast peak.

"It is now certain that the water level will not exceed nine metres in Budapest," he said.

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