Thousands evacuated in Europe as levees break

Dresden Germany AP

Desperate families were plucked from rooftops by helicopters, cars were swept away by raging torrents and levees failed without warning Wednesday as Central Europe staggered under an inland ocean of flooding.

Tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated in Germany and the Czech Republic and chemical plants along the mighty Danube and Elbe rivers were hastily shut down. City officials, federal troops and emergency workers across a vast region either raced to prepare or struggled to cope as flood crests roared downstream.

Near the southeastern German town of Deggendorf, two levees broke along the Danube and Isar rivers and their raging waters engulfed nearby houses.

“This is an absolutely life-threatening situation,” local firefighter Alois Schraufstetter said. “Houses are covered up to 3 meters deep in water.”

Overall, 16 people have died since the beginning of the flooding last week, including eight people in the Czech Republic, five in Germany, two in Austria and one in Slovakia. At least four other people were missing in the Czech Republic, according to the Interior Ministry.