Ten Years After Epic Elbe River Flooding
In the coming weeks, the state of Saxony will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the historic floods that ravaged the low-lying eastern plains. In the areas along the Elbe River that were particularly hard hit during the disaster there are now plans to mark the day with worship services and hours of reflection to pay tribute to those affected.
Towns in Saxony Bore Brunt and Then Rebuilt
Enlarge image The Semperoper became an island in August 2002 (© picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb) Ten years ago, Germany’s summer of 2002 was doused with record rainfall, which prompted epic levels of water – a hundred-year flood. People around the world watched as the historic center of Dresden was swallowed by the Elbe River.
A low-pressure zone, like a soused sponge hanging in the atmosphere, stretched from the Mediterranean over Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany to the Baltic Sea. But it was the German state of Saxony that was the worst hit–21 deaths were registered.
On August 12, 2002, the town of Zinnwald-Georgenfeld close to the Czech border recorded a never-before-seen 312 liters of rain per square meter – the equivalent of 3 months’ worth of rain. The valleys and dales of the southern Saxony mountain region, dotted throughout with numerous villages and towns, were devastated. Creeks and streams were turned into raging rivers. Small towns, like Freital, Döbeln, Grimma and Eilenburg were ravaged. And then the water pressed north, dumping into the Elbe.
All along its banks–or at least where the banks were meant to be–houses, streets, railways and bridges were swept away. Not since World War II had the area seen such destruction. The state of Saxony was declared a disaster zone. In Dresden, famous works of art and buildings that had only recently been reconstructed to restore the historic pre-war city center were all threatened with being wiped away anew, awakening a global sense of solidarity. Thousands came from all over Germany to reinforce dykes and schlep sandbags.
The Semperoper in the center of Dresden, ten years after the flood. Photo from May 08, 2012.
(© picture alliance / dpa)
Once the waters subsided, the total damage in Saxony amounted to over 6 billion euros; nationwide it was 9.2 billion. States and the federal government furnished billions in reconstruction bonds, engaging the aid of countless charities and pouring the copious donations into the flooded region. At a hastened pace the piles of rubbish were removed, most facades painted and the streets and bridges, which had been laid to waste, were re-established.
One debate remained: how best to ensure flood control measures in times of climate change and extreme weather. Since 2002, Saxony has put 530 million euros into flood protection. By 2020 it will be a full billion euros. Dykes, walls and retaining basins are being constructed and the warning system improved. Historic Saxony is well aware that floods are anything but a thing of the past