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Holmes: Towns, farmland devastated

CNN's Michael Holmes  

GRIMMA, Germany (CNN) -- CNN's Michael Holmes has been reporting from Grimma, Germany, on Europe's worst flooding in recent memory, the threat of disease and the huge multi-billion dollar clean-up that must now follow.

Q. Is the worst now over?

HOLMES: The actual flood in terms of the Elbe and Mulde river is starting to recede. There is not going to be any more rising water per se but there is a lot of flood plain. All around Germany there are levees to contain flood waters on the flood plains and at the moment many are flooded up to the top of these embankments.

Several have failed and there is still concern that some smaller towns and villages could still be flooded if more of these levees fail. That's the current critical situation.

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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Q. How much will the total bill for the flood damage and the clean-up?

HOLMES: There's been a variety of estimates. Some government estimates run up to 20 billion euros, or $20 billion, but one insurance company said that was conservative and they wouldn't be surprised if it ran to 50 billion.

The German government is releasing 500 million euros immediately out of a total package of 6.9 billion euros. European nations are giving 6 billion and they are going to need more than that.

Q. What does Grimma look like right now?

HOLMES: It's an astonishing scene here. At least 20 homes out of a town of some 18,000 people have been destroyed, and most of the town has been damaged in some way.

When you stand on the river bank you can see a suspension bridge going across he river. The top of the bridge is just jammed with straw and a pile of debris -- even a portable toilet. The river level is about 15 or 20 feet below the bridge, so it just gives some indication of just how much water came through here.

Q. How much of a problem is the likelihood of disease?

HOLMES: There has been a warning about hepatitis. We have seen it ourselves, there are a lot of dead animals in the water and they are worried that where flood waters remain in towns and villages there is the strong possibility of it being contaminated, at the very least by sewage.

The drinking water is a concern but there have been no reported cases of anyone being affected so far. They've superchlorinated the water to the point where the authorities say adults can drink it, though they would prefer it if they didn't, but they say children should not drink it.

Q. What about the threat to farmland from pollution?

That is really serious. Everybody sees the damage to buildings and towns and cities and villages but there has been an awful lot of farmland inundated, flood plain and regular farmland. What we were hearing this morning is that officials are warning farmers who have already lost their summer crop not to replant anything until their individual farms have been tested for contamination. This will take many months.

Q. Will the floods bring political repercussions?

Every day in the newspapers and on television the election on September 22 is very much in people's minds. There's still a lot of toing and froing between the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his conservative opponent, Edmund Stoiber.

Stoiber has been accusing the chancellor of politicking about the floods but Schroeder saying he's just doing his job.

Germans have been feeling a bit in the middle of all this but the election campaign is very much on, perhaps because of or despite of what's happening in places like Grimma.

Q. What's the mood of the German people at the moment?

In many places there is no doubt they are feeling very frustrated. In some places like Grimma they have been very welcoming to us and saying, give us the publicity, because that will create the awareness that will lead to funding to help us rebuild.


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• 'Floods took away my livelihood'
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• Prague faces 'worst moment'
August 14, 2002

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