Tense evacuees sit out German flood disaster

6th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

"I just want to go home," says German flood evacuee Karola Teetz, sitting in a crowded emergency centre near what has become a virtual ghost town on the banks of the swollen Elbe river.

For four days, the 55-year-old has camped out with her mother, sister and about 150 others in a converted school gymnasium in Wolfen, part of the eastern city of Bitterfeld, a hotspot in the flood disaster.

She says she plays board games to while away the time. Around her pensioners doze or drink coffee and children paint pictures. A mother breastfeeds her baby and then places it in a travel cot.

At night the displaced from the worst floods in over a decade here sleep on beds and mattresses lined up on the floor, worrying about their homes in Bitterfeld, 12 kilometres (seven miles) away.

Teetz, who usually works in a public swimming pool, has seen her home region turned into a vast brown waterworld.

A swollen lake is threatening to jump a dyke and spill into her town in what was once communist East Germany. Two controlled explosions to empty it away from the town have had little results.

Teetz praised the thousands of volunteers who have flocked to the area to fill sandbags and people who have come by the centre to help out, bringing cakes, books, towels and childrens' toys.

But she still said she felt "abandoned" and complained that "we don't get a lot of information" about the state of the worst flood since 2002, recalling that she had hesitated before leaving her home.

The evacuees are cared for by Red Cross volunteers, including Silke Stannebein, 45, who said: "We have to keep motivating people to stay here. It's like a chaplain's work."

Bitterfeld was notorious in the former East Germany as the site of a heavily polluting chemical industrial complex that was so toxic much of it was wiped off the map after reunification.

The city of some 45,000 people hasn't fully recovered.

Old Baroque architecture mixes with prefabricated housing and some joyless new buildings. Unemployment at around 11 percent is nearly double the national rate.

Amid the floods, much of the city now lies abandoned, with only trucks and tractors carrying sand and bags to strengthen the lake defences rumbling through empty streets, and the whirring sound of water pumps heard from water-logged basements.

On the edge of Lake Goitzsche, which Chancellor Angela Merkel visited on Thursday, there is far more activity. Soldiers in khaki T-shirts and volunteers fill sandbags, or occasionally use them for a rest, taking pictures of the activity with their smartphones.

Many are wearing straw hats against the summer sun in the blue sky, a welcome change after the days of torrential rains that have caused the inundations.

"School is closed all week," said one of the helpers, 16-year-old Laureen Wegert. She was working alongside 200 Bundeswehr soldiers shovelling sand into ever more bags, hoping to prevent what locals call a mini-tsunami.

"I wanted to do something useful," she said.

In a flooded garden, littered with debris from the endless sea of dirty water, someone has pinned a poster to a fence, declaring "A big thank you to all those who are helping us".

© 2013 AFP

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