Troops battle to rein in Oder

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The Independent Online
They call it Oder in Germany, and Odra in Poland. The river with two names was yesterday showing two faces to the people who live along its banks. Beaten back in the West, the Odra was bearing down on defences in the East, threatening to swamp the Polish town of Slubice, and forcing the evacuation of 15,000 residents.

"We are evacuating people from Slubice as a precaution," said spokesman Krzysztof Pomes. "The level of the Odra is 12cm higher than in 1930 when a great flood took place.

"Even though the floods are receding ... and weather forecasts are optimistic, we are concerned about the state of anti-flood dykes along the Odra and some other rivers. They are weak and soaked through like sponges."

As Manfred Kanther, the German Interior Minister, co-ordinated rescue efforts with his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller in Slubice, the water level reached a record 6.58 metres.

Thousands of soldiers worked frantically on both sides to raise the walls of sandbags above their one-inch clearance.

In Frankfurt an der Oder, Colonel Rudolf Richter, of the 14th Armoured Infantry Division, is in charge of three dyke-building brigades. He has 120 men whose only job is to speed along the defences looking for cracks. They spotted one burst dam yesterday, near the village of Brieskow, and within minutes the entire area was infiltrated by nearly a thousand spade- wielding members of the Bundeswehr.

The Bundeswehr's legions have done a good job. Nobody has been injured so far and damage to property has been minimised. With the rivers upstream slimming slowly down to normal levels, the consensus is that the crisis is over, at least from the German perspective.

Germany's two eastern neighbours, however, must come to terms with one of the biggest natural disasters to befall them this century. About140,000 people have been made homeless in Poland, and the Czech economy has sustained more than pounds 1bn worth of damage.

Of the river's two faces, most television viewers in the rest of the world have seen only one: not the Odra which killed more than 100 people in Poland and the Czech Republic, but the Oder which has yet to claim a German life. Nevertheless, Western crews, such as the BBC, turned out in great force only last week, training their cameras on the banks of the West, long after the real story was over.