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Rail closures as tens of thousands across Germany and Hungary left homeless by floods swelling Elbe and Danube rivers

One of the Germany's main railway routes closed

The swollen River Elbe has breached another levee on its relentless march towards the North Sea, forcing Germany to evacuate 10 villages and close one of the country's main railway routes.

As the surge from the Elbe pushed into rural eastern Germany, there was some relief further upstream as the river slipped back from record levels in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt state.

To the south, the Danube hit a record high on Sunday evening in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, then began to ease back. The city escaped significant damage, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban said soldiers and rescue workers would shift their focus further south.

Weeks of heavy rain this spring have made the Elbe, the Danube and other rivers such as the Vltava and the Saale overflow, causing extensive damage in central and southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. At least 21 flood-related deaths have been reported.

Germany's national railway had to close a bridge near Fischbeck on the line from Berlin to Cologne, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes across Germany and Hungary on Sunday as further dramatic rises in the levels of the swollen Elbe and Danube rivers continued to cause some of the most devastating floods ever experienced in Central Europe.

In the east German city of Magdeburg, flood waters from the Elbe rose 80cm higher than during 2002’s so-called “flood of the century”. Some 23,000 residents were forced to flee their homes as soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers battled furiously to shore up dykes.

City officials said an entire district of Magdeburg faced the possibility being submerged and there were fears that an electricity-supply station would be flooded, shutting off power supplies. “You just cannot imagine what people are having to deal with,” said the German President Joachim Gauck after touring flood-hit towns.

The flooding northwards along the Elbe is expected to continue and possibly even worsen this week as waters from the river’s swollen tributaries flow into the main river south of Magdeburg and head north-west.

In southern Germany thousands of residents were struggling with a massive clean-up operation following devastating Danube floods which hit parts of Bavaria last week. Further heavy rain is forecast for southern Germany and further flooding in the region could not be ruled out.

So far at least 15 people have died in Central Europe since the flooding began a week ago. In Germany, 70,000 firemen, 11,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of volunteer rescue workers are battling the rising waters. 

On Sunday the Elbe cities of Wittenberge and Lauenburg were also hit by severe flooding and officials said they  expected water levels would remain high for days. By contrast 10,000 residents evacuated from the town of Bitterfeld, further south, were being allowed to return home yesterday as the floodwaters receded.

German police said the problems caused by the floods were exacerbated by letters circulated early on Sunday by a suspected left-wing group, threatening to damage sections of already weakened river dykes in order to create chaos.

The letters signed by a group calling itself the “anti-German, anti-fascist flood brigade” threatened to strike at  dykes in order to “harm people across Germany”. Police said they had stepped up helicopter surveillance and road patrols in response.

In Hungary, thousands of volunteers, rescue workers and even convicts were reinforcing dykes along a 470-mile stretch of the swollen Danube yesterday. Some 2,000 residents were evacuated from the village of Gyorujfalu in western Hungary because a dyke threatened to burst.

Small towns and villages have already been cut off and in Budapest the Danube was expected to reach record levels early today. Istvan Tarlos, the city’s mayor, said that in the worst case up to 55,000 people would need to be evacuated.