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Eyewitness: Prague 'gripped by fear'

A man takes a video of a flooded area in Prague after days of torrential rain  

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNN) -- Luke Allnutt, an editor for Prague-based Internet magazine Transitions Online, speaks to CNN from the centre of the Czech capital as residents brace for what could be the worst floods for over a century.

There is a mood of fear and apprehension here as locals struggle to find ways to protect their homes and livelihoods as best they can.

In the last few days the rain has just not stopped.

People have been anxiously ramming sandbags across the doors and windows of their homes and businesses in a desperate attempt to halt the floodwaters that are expected to hit the city centre later on Tuesday.

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There is a wartime atmosphere -- people are stocking up on tinned food, hoarding supplies of water and working together to confront this common threat.

All the cashpoint machines across the city are being drained as people grab their money from the banks. I saw one ATM machine with a queue 20 deep. Many fear that if the electricity supply and computers go down, they will not be able to access their accounts later.

Paintings and other works of art are being stripped from galleries and shopkeepers are loading up their stock to take it to safer storage.

Police and firefighters have put up huge steel flood barriers nearly 2 metres high along the embankments of the Vltava amid fears many of Prague's historic monuments could be damaged.

When I was by the 14th-century Charles Bridge earlier I could see fridges, chairs and other furniture being carried along with the rest of the debris in the fast-moving Vltava underneath.

There is a strange mixture of the surreal alongside harsh realities throughout the city.

One girl has been handing out ice-creams for free after the refrigerator in her shop packed up because of the floods and the stock started to melt -- an almost carnival-like sight.

Elsewhere, old ladies have been crying as they are forced to abandon the homes they have lived in for decades.

Sirens wail across Prague

When I walked through the capital early this morning, the streets had an eery feel to them. It was very quiet as many people had left their homes the night before, packing their belongings and going to stay with friends and relatives outside Prague or on higher ground in the city.

I heard civil defence sirens begin to wail and saw evacuation notices plastered on buildings and notice boards, showing the areas that are expected to be worst hit when the floodwaters reach their peak.

Evacuees have been advised to leave and stay with relatives and friends or go to designated schools and other places of safety.

There is less a fear among Czechs of people losing the lives, they are more concerned with the damage that could be inflicted on their property and businesses.

Their fear contrasts sharply with the mood of some of the tourists crowding onto the city's river banks and taking photos of the swirling Vltava who seem oblivious to the danger and see the flooding as just another holiday attraction.

But other tourists are horrified by residents' suffering and at what is being inflicted on such a beautiful historic city.

In areas that are outside the evacuation zone, other people have been taking advantage of being given a day off of work and are spending time in the bars and cafes.

There has also been some scaremongering, with rumours going around about a mini-tidal wave coming down on the city, and talk of the military having to bomb a ship that might break its moorings and crash into the historic Charles Bridge.

But amid all the concern for the city, people feel for those who have had their homes severely damaged in the villages and towns outside in the south of the country, which have been hardest hit by torrential rain and floods.


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