I'll drown with my village

The heavens opened up above the Oder yesterday, compounding the misery of thousands of people already exhausted from their battle against the flood of the century. As the rain pounded rescue workers on the banks, the river broke through the dykes in three places, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people and their livestock.

Aurith, a hamlet 20 miles downstream from the confluence of the Oder and the Neisse, was inundated for the second time. Inhabitants of Wiesenau and Ziltendorf near by were also asked to leave, as river defences were crumbling. Officials set up emergency shelters in schools and gym halls in villages still on dry land, but many villagers refused to leave their homes and tried to save them by piling up yet more sandbags. Many clung to their houses, surveying the new waterworld from the top floor of their damp property, because of a widespread fear of looting.

"I'll drown with the village," said Rainer Bublak, mayor of Wiesenau. Several hundred extra police and border guards were dispatched to the area to protect property. They pledged to patrol the ghost villages night and day.

In Brieskow, which lies 7m (21ft) below the crest of the waves, the authorities had been trying since morning to persuade residents to leave. Appeals were broadcast, church bells rang out, sirens wailed. Nevertheless, some people were still there last night.

Rescue workers did better in Ziltendorf, where the danger was imminent. "The evacuation is proceeding in am orderly manner," said Manfred Krohe, a spokesman of the Brandenburg regional government. But he admitted "many families at first bring only their children to safety".

Downstream, in Frankfurt an der Oder, the dykes were holding but beyond it the situation grew critical. A makeshift wall of sandbags collapsed north of Frankfurt, deluging fields in the Oderbruch. This region is the most vulnerable section of the river in Germany, home to 19,000 people.

The breach relieved pressure for the moment on the barriers but if more rain comes the whole area will be evacuated. In Poland and the Czech Republic, where the waters of the Oder originate and have already claimed more than 100 lives, it was raining too yesterday.