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 June 05, 2013
German flood waters reach 500-year high

 Swollen rivers gushed into the old section of Passau in southeastern Germany, as water rose in the city to levels not seen in more than five centuries.

The city was one of the worst hit by flooding that has spread across a large area of central Europe in the wake of heavy rainfall in recent days.

At least eight people were reported to have died and nine were missing in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

"The situation is extremely dramatic," Herbert Zillinger, a spokesman for Passau's crisis centre, stated.

Much of the city was inaccessible on foot and the electricity supply was shut down as a precaution, he said. Rescuers were using boats to remove people from flooded parts of the city. Authorities in the afternoon evacuated a prison that was in danger of being flooded, moving 60 inmates to nearby facilities on higher ground.

But with water from the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers relentlessly pouring into the city, water was advancing into previously dry streets -- in one case going from dry to ankle-deep within half an hour. Markers set in 1954, when the city suffered its worst flooding in living memory, have disappeared beneath the rising water.

The German news agency dpa said the water levels were the highest recorded since 1501 in Passau, a city of 50,000 people that dates from before Roman times.

The German army said it has sent 1,760 soldiers to help local authorities and volunteers reinforce flood defences, particularly in the south and east of the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to visit flood-hit areas, her spokesman said.

Elsewhere, authorities in the Czech Republic said more than 7,000 people had to be evacuated as of Monday afternoon as the flood-swollen Vltava River continued to rise.

Those evacuated included residents of southern neighbourhoods in Prague and the town of Terezin -- also known as Theresienstadt, the former Jewish concentration camp during the Nazi occupation -- north of the capital.

Prague's central sewage-treatment plant was shut down on Monday to prevent damage from the high water. That means that sewage from the capital goes directly to the river. The plant may be restarted today.

Interim Mayor Tomas Hudecek said animals from a zoo near the river had been taken to safety. Parts of the city's subway were also shut down.

The Charles Bridge -- normally packed with tourists at this time of year -- was closed, as were some other popular spots near the river at the foot of Prague Castle. Rescuers removed about 2,700 people across the western half of the country, where the government declared a state of emergency in most regions.

Some had to leave their homes in the southern neighbourhoods of Prague, while further evacuations have been under way in the northern Czech Republic, awaiting a flood wave later.