Residents evacuate to escape Elbe River flooding

Saturday, August 17, 2002

DRESDEN, Germany -- Dresden residents grabbed what they could and fled for higher ground Friday as the Elbe River rose to record levels, pushing into many neighborhoods and forcing workers to give up some of their efforts to save the city's world-famous cultural landmarks.

Fed by high water that struck the Czech capital of Prague earlier this week, the Elbe rose above 29 1/2 feet Friday, carrying refrigerators, sofas and cars as its swirling waters engulfed one neighborhood after the other. It was expected to crest Saturday.

A total of 33,000 Dresden residents were forced to leave their homes by Friday, police said. The death toll from two weeks of flooding across Europe rose to 104 as two more victims were found in the Czech Republic and one in Austria Friday,

In Dresden, firefighters evacuated Christine Fritzsch, 69, and her neighbors from their apartment house at 1 a.m. to a middle school across town.

Sitting on camp beds in a school classroom Friday evening, they said they had watched the water approach the front steps. Their TV sets blinked out, then their telephones went dead.

"Then I knew that we had to get out," she said.

Sandbags were running out in Dresden as residents young and old guarded their streets from the muddy tide with thick walls.

Emergency workers were forced to give up efforts to pump the basement of Dresden's famed 19th-century Semper Opera.

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