In Halle, the birthplace of Handel, ‘Water Music’ has a new resonance: Horrendous floods have left people fighting for their homes – and their lives

 

Halle

A A A

In the narrow streets of the ancient east German town of Halle, students, pensioners and housewives joined rescue workers battling furiously to fill hundreds of blue British Royal Mail sacks with sand, tons of which had been dumped in the city’s main market place.

An almighty struggle was underway to defend the birthplace of Handel from the worst flooding the city has experienced since the composer was born in 1685 – just one town affected by the worst floods central Europe has seen for more than a decade, and which have claimed 16 lives in the past week.

The solidarity of Halle’s citizens in the face of their common enemy was palpable. “I have just come back from looking after my grandchildren,” Anna Ottensen, a woman in her sixties, told The Independent as she grabbed a sandbag and started filling it. “I am damned if I am going to let my home town go under without a fight.”

A rescue worker manning a roaring mechanical pump, expelling hundreds of gallons of filthy black water from a semi-submerged building, explained that the flood defence teams had been packing so many sandbags, they had run out of the usual sacks.

“Somebody donated the British Royal Mail bags which we’ve been using ever since,” he said.

Not five yards away from him, the menace facing Halle and thousands of towns and villages along the River Elbe and its tributaries lay bubbling behind a soggy wall of sandbags. At the end of a street a vast torrent of muddy water sped by, bearing along snapped branches, reeds, bits of tree, and islands of foul-smelling rubbish.

Across the region, 12-mile sections of autobahn were flanked by long walls of white sandbags. Behind them, huge expanses of sludge-brown overspill from the Elbe stretched away into the distance, drowning trees, hedgerows and buildings.

Since they began last weekend, the floods spreading across central Europe have caused billions of euros worth of damage. In the area around Halle alone, authorities told some 30,000 people to evacuate their homes.

In the Czech Republic, as the Elbe reached its highest level there overnight, firefighters said some 700 Czech villages, towns and cities had been hit by the flooding, and some 20,500 people had been evacuated. In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, the Danube was still rising after reaching a record high earlier in the week. As of last night, the floods had killed eight people in the Czech Republic, five in Germany, two in Austria and one in Slovakia.

In Halle, the city’s Saale river, a tributary of the Elbe, had risen 26ft above its normal level after two months’ worth of rain fell in two days. Large sections of the old town remained inundated, with some buildings totally submerged.

The majority of the thousands evacuated have been put up by friends and relatives in surrounding areas, but a few hardy residents have opted to stay. Ursula Heller, a 36-year-old teacher is one of them. She stood, stooped, arranging sandbags around her front door as a pump spewed water out of her sodden front room and cellar. “We are making do with bottled water and candles for the time being. It’s the cleaning up and the damage that are the main difficulties,” she said.

The flood devastation was similar if not worse across broad swathes of southern and eastern Germany. Some 16,000 German troops have been drafted in to build flood defence walls and in some cases blow up dykes to divert floodwater.

In Bavaria, where hundreds of towns and villages have been struggling against flooding from the Danube, a burst dyke almost totally submerged the town of Deggendorf on Wednesday. Hundreds of people were winched to safety by army helicopters after clinging to the roofs of their homes. Rescue workers were riding lengths of the region’s flooded autobahns in rubber boats. And in Dresden, volunteers worked through the night with rescue workers to shore up the city against the rising Elbe. The city experienced devastating damage during massive flooding in 2002 and since then it has invested millions in flood protection measures designed to shield the city’s historic buildings.

Although floodwaters had swept through parts of Dresden’s suburbs, the Elbe failed to reach its 2002 levels. It peaked at 28ft above the normal 6ft depth, but that let residents breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that the worst was over.

However, the flooding is still spreading north along the Elbe and its tributaries and is expected to reach the states of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern today and over the weekend. Estimates suggest that the floodwaters will continue to pose a threat for the next 10 days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured flood regions for a second time after promising victims a total of €100bn in aid. But there were already claims that the sum would be totally inadequate.

In Brussels, the European Budget Commissioner announced that emergency funds to help the countries affected had run out. Janusz Lewandowski told a news conference: “The scale of the catastrophe is absolutely beyond the reimbursement possible in these countries.”

In Halle one of the city’s main sources of tourist income is its acclaimed Handel music festival, which was due to start this week. It too has fallen victim to the floods and been called off. Handel’s Water Music has a new resonance.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam