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New threat for flood-hit Europe

Villages and towns across central Europe are counting the cost of the floods
Villages and towns across central Europe are counting the cost of the floods  

TEREZIN, Czech Republic -- Disease, illness and chemical pollution are emerging as the new threats facing Europe as the worst floods in living memory begin to recede.

More than 100 people have perished in storms and flooding in Germany, Austria, Russia and the Czech republic in recent weeks.

But residents now face possible disease as they return to their homes to find piles of decaying household waste and debris from shops and restaurants.

Many sewage treatment plants have also been forced to shut down and others have flooded. Czech newspapers are running articles on how to disinfect clothes and dispose of potentially tainted food.

CNN's Michael Holmes, reporting from Grimma, Germany, said the focus had now moved from the damage caused by floods to the task of clearing up the debris and detrius. (On The Scene)

Grimma, Germany, faces the destruction with a will to rebuild. (August 19)

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The Czech Republic begins its clean-up. (August 19)

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Workers try to stave off the threat from the Elbe and Mulde rivers. (August 19)

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Lost hippo found  
Damage estimate: $7bn 
Special report: Floods ravage Europe 
Gallery: Images of flooding 
Map: Severely hit areas 
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People had been warned not to touch the waters because of the threat of hepatitis, Holmes said, adding the size and scale of the damage as the water level dropped has been described as "breathtaking."

In Dresden, where water levels rose five-fold to more than 30 foot (10 metres) in the worst flood on record, authorities said they were aware of disease dangers.

"We're offering hepatitis vaccinations and urging people not to touch food after they've been working around the water," Irina Duevel, spokeswoman for the environment ministry in the state of Saxony, told Reuters.

But Duevel added the danger of an epidemic was limited and "we don't want to cause panic."

About 20,000 cleanup workers in the Czech Republic are being offered hepatitis vaccinations, health official Michael Vit told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

"Meat is decaying at all the butcher shops and the area, hygienically, is in a catastrophic state," Igor Nemec, the mayor of the capital Prague, said.

Czech and German environment ministers are due to tour the flooded Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice, about 20 km (12 miles) north of Prague, later on Tuesday amid fears it could still pose an environmental threat after leaking poisonous chlorine gas last week.

"They want to see right at the source how it looks, whether the fears are founded or not," Czech Environment Ministry spokeswoman Karolina Sulova said.

The Rivers Elbe and Vltava, which flow through towns and cities -- including Prague and Dresden -- are lined with factories dating back to the communist-era, when environmental standards were rarely taken into consideration during construction.

The town of Wittenberg near Berlin is also home to a complex of chemical plants.

Officials say potentially dangerous chemicals have been cleared from the area or stored safely above ground, but residents and environmental groups have expressed fears of a spill or water contamination.

Following the floods, about 740 kilometres of streets have been destroyed and 180 bridges need to be rebuilt. Some towns like Grimma looked as if they had been bombed, Holmes said. (Map of affected areas)

The German government has promised $500 million in immediate aid, $6.9 billion over the long term. The European Union is chipping in with $5 billion and German racing driver Michael Schumacher has offered $1 million of his own money. (Germany delays tax cuts)

The government also announced after an emergency Cabinet meeting that it will delay tax cuts worth $6.9 billion, due to take effect in 2003, to help pay for reconstruction. (Crisis may aid Schroeder)

German authorities reported three more deaths on Monday, bringing the Europe-wide toll to at least 109.

The massive cleanup and rebuilding operation is expected to cost about 20 billion euros ($20 billion) across Europe.

Floodwaters also swamped a cemetery where 10,000 Holocaust victims are buried in the Czech Republic, creating a vast, stinking lake at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt.

"It's horrible," Jan Munk, the director of the Terezin memorial, told The Associated Press, adding that it may take many months to restore the site.

Copyright 2002 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


• Floods spark chemical spill fear
August 17, 2002
• Dresden floods reach all-time high
August 16, 2002
• Huge cost of Czech floods
August 16, 2002
• Dresden evacuated as waters rise
August 15, 2002
• 'Floods took away my livelihood'
August 14, 2002
• Prague faces 'worst moment'
August 14, 2002

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