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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world