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'Darkest hours' for Austrians

Historic buildings in Steyr under water  

SALZBURG, Austria -- The Salzburg International Festival has escaped the impact of flooding but other parts of Austria are seeing record water levels.

The month-long festival attracts 210,000 visitors each year but despite the river Salzach threatening to burst its banks the winding, cobbled streets have so far escaped any serious flooding.

Other towns in Austria have been less fortunate with seven lives being lost to floods including those of two firemen.

P. Schadl, wrote CNN an e-mail from Vienna, which said: "These are our darkest hours but together we are strong."

Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer said the government would pass emergency measures on Wednesday to aid victims, particularly in the north of the country, while parts of the country had been declared disaster areas.

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The government has drawn up a plan for 650 million euros ($640 million) in direct aid to flood victims, companies and flooded towns and villages.

While the Lower Austrian regional government has pledged $98 million, and Governor Erwin Proell said up to 60,000 people in the area could have been affected.

Elisabeth Koch, a climate expert at the Austrian Centre for Meteorology and Geophysics, told Reuters: "The main area affected was Upper and Lower Austria and Salzburg and in parts of these regions we had rainfall the like of which we have never measured since records began over 100 years ago."

A third victim was found on Monday in a flooded cellar in Hallein, near Salzburg, while a 48-year-old man was killed by a mudslide in Upper Austria.

Also in Upper Austria, a 53-year-old man died on Tuesday after his lorry that was carrying gravel to repair roads damaged by the floods plunged into a ditch, police said.

Police in the westernmost province of Vorarlberg were quoted by Reuters as saying they had found two dead men in a car, which was believed to have been swept away by floods over the weekend.

Under threat are the northern provinces of Upper Austria and Lower Austria including the Kamp Valley where the village of Gars was evacuated.

The main route between Salzburg and Vienna, the A1 motorway, was closed overnight on Tuesday because of flooding.

Historic towns such as Steyr in Upper Austria were immersed in water after the river Enns broke its banks, authorities said, though the levels seemed to be receding on Wednesday.

Helmut Zlabinger, head of security at Steyr police, told Reuters: "The police and fire brigade have rescued 1,500 people from their houses, 100 lifted out by helicopter."




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