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Prague flood damage toll rising

workers resting
Soldiers take a break as the clean-up continues in Prague's Karlin district  

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Pavla Kozakova, correspondent for Prague-based Internet magazine Transitions Online (TOL), tells CNN that the true toll of the city's floods is only now becoming apparent.

Although the river level is falling every day in Prague, the true toll of the worst flooding in more than 100 years is only becoming more grim.

Sixteen people were killed, and 30,000 have been left homeless. According to preliminary estimates, the total damage could climb as high as 90 billion Czech crowns ($2.83 billion).

As volunteers and inhabitants of the affected areas try to dry out and scrape off the silt and debris, the flood damage is becoming more visible.

The government's Central Bohemian Crises Headquarters set the first, direct cost of the rescue work and emergency measures at 77.9 million Czech crowns.

The Czech Association of Insurance Agencies (CAP) has so far registered approximately 130,000 claims. They estimate the total cost for those claims will be 19 billion crowns.

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"But those are just preliminary numbers, and next week we will have more accurate ones," CAP official Jan Kabrt told TOL on 26 August.

Following the Moravian floods of 1997, insurers received approximately 117,000 claims and paid out 10 billion crowns.

Cultural monuments and institutions such as museums, galleries, theatres, libraries, and churches buildings suffered at least 2.3 billion crowns worth of damage, the Czech Culture Ministry said in its 21 August press release.

But ministry officials cautioned that the estimate is only preliminary and that it includes only ministry-run institutions. Affected public libraries reported the initial loss of approximately 280,000 volumes.

The flood also affected the records offices of the Czech Courts, and most legal proceedings had to be halted.

Workers at the archive of the City Court in Prague returned to find 4.5 kilometres of files under water.

"The important files and the files of unfinished cases were not destroyed. We are transporting them into safety to dry out," Oldrich Nic, the security director of Justice Ministry, told Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes on August 24.

The historical part of Prague reported that about 90 percent of the cellars in the district were flooded. Many roads caved in as well, and some of them are expected to be out of operation for up to seven months.

Prague's historic Jewish Quarter was also damaged. "The most affected were the Pinkasova and Staronova synagogues, both of which lay under the level of the river water," Tomas Jelinek, the chair of the Prague Jewish community, told TOL on 23 August. Flood water rose to 1.5 metres in the two important synagogues.

Despite the negative effects of the flooding, Jelinek insisted that the Jewish Quarter had been "lucky." "We did not lose any real valuables," he said.

Still, the loss of profit from tourism and other sources is estimated at half a billion per month, which might complicate the maintenance of the 177 Jewish cemeteries that the Prague Jewish community finances.

However, the Jewish community wants to help other parts of the Czech Republic that are worse off. "We have had good experiences in cooperating with many cities, and we would like to choose one small city and help finance its reconstruction," Jelinek said.

While the Czech Republic witnessed many other similar acts of a goodwill, several cases of looting were also reported.

Residents have been gathering what remains of their property  

In addition to looking into suspected cases of looting, Czech police also launched an investigation into the conduct of the chemical company Spolana and the administrators of the Prague metro immediately before and during the floods.

Spolana is blamed for not immediately and accurately reporting chlorine leaks at its plant.

Spolana stores mercury and dioxin, both of which could cause environmental disaster if leaked into the water supply. According to the company, there were no leaks of dioxin and only slight mercury contamination in one Spolana's building. In the last two weeks, there have been three chlorine leaks from Spolana, but no injuries have been reported.

In the case of the Prague metro, police are investigating whether all means were employed to prevent water from leaking into the Prague subway system.

Since the Prague subway was in part built to serve as shelter in case of extensive flooding due to one or more of the Vltava River's seven dams breaking, the extent of the damage to the facilities is arousing suspicion that there has been some breakdown in maintenance procedures.

The Prague subway system has three lines with 51 stops. Seventeen of the stations were flooded. The system is not expected to operate fully before Christmas, and preliminary repair estimates start at 2 billion Czech crowns.

A more accurate figure will be known only after all the water is pumped out of the subways at the end of August.

The Prague zoo was also heavily damaged. "Due to floods, the Prague zoo lost 9 mammals and about 80 birds," zoo spokesperson Vit Kahlek told TOL.

The Troja facility closed its gates on August 13 and had to evacuate more than a thousand animals in total. The Prague zoo is scheduled to re-open for visitors on August 31.




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