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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Art saved from European floods
The Zwinger Palace in Dresden
The Zwinger Palace in Dresden was deluged
Most of the historic works of art and cultural landmarks in Prague and Dresden appear to have been saved from the floodwaters that have devastated the cities.

The torrents have raged through parts of the historic centres of both cities, which contain numerous galleries, museums and theatres.

Prague's National Theatre
Prague's National Theatre in drier times
Many important pieces of art in Prague were moved out of harm's way before the waters arrived, according to Alfredo Azula, managing editor of English language newspaper the Prague Post.

"It looks like we've been lucky. We had a lot of warning that the water was coming, so that stuff was moved to higher ground," he told BBC News Online.

The city's historic National Theatre, a landmark that dates from 1881 and became a symbol of Czech national renaissance in the 19th century, had been under threat of collapse.

But is expected to survive now that water levels are dropping, Mr Azula said.

"The basement was flooded and there was some concern that the building might collapse because it sits right on the river bank and it's not very stable ground.


Everyone was running through knee-high water with torches, passing works of art to each other

Martin Roth
Dresden art director
"But they've drained all the water out of there and it's looking good."

At the National Library, valuable volumes were taken to upper floors.

But some plaster casts of 20th Century sculptures kept in the basement of the Zbraslav Chateau, which houses the national collection of Asian art, were destroyed.

In Dresden, one of Europe's greatest art collections, in the ornate Zwinger Palace, was threatened as water rushed through the building's vaults.

Firefighters walk alongside hoses pumping water out of Zwinger and the Semper opera house, background, in the eastern German city of Dresden
Water has been pumped out of Zwinger and the Semper opera house
But up to 8,000 works of art were moved to higher levels in two days by curators, soldiers and volunteers.

Martin Roth, director general of the city's art collections, said the water levels were "totally unexpected".

"We had to move at the last minute when the water started coming in," he said.

"Everyone was running through knee-high water with torches, passing works of art to each other. The vaults are ruined. They will take a long time to restore."

Evacuation

Firefighters are pumping clear the cellars of the Zwinger Palace and the neighbouring Semper Oper opera house, which was only reopened in 1985 after repair from World War II bomb damage.

"I have photos of the Zwinger under water in 1896 but I have never experienced anything like it," said Hans Nadler, 92, who offered to help in the evacuation despite being in a wheelchair.

But water levels in Dresden are expected to rise further, and cities including the Slovak capital, Bratislava, and Salzburg in Austria are still under threat.

Dozens of people have been killed across the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Russia.

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