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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy