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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 26, 2010
Floods Strike Again
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Floods Strike Again
August 26, 2010   
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Flash floods caused by the heaviest rainfall in the last 50 years hit the Lower Silesia region close to the Polish-German border Aug. 7-8 killing four people, reducing houses to rubble and sweeping away roads. After the floods in May and June, it was the third time the region was devastated by flooding this year.

“I am saddened by the predicament of the flood victims,” President Bronisław Komorowski said Aug. 10 in Bogatynia, one of the towns which the floods hit the hardest. “Bogatynia is not alone,” he added, saying that the flood victims could look forward help from the state.

On the night to Aug. 8, parts of Lower Silesia came under a torrential downpour that continued for hours and brought more rain than normally falls in the area throughout the year. As a result, local streams, tributaries of the Nysa Łużycka river, burst dams and inundated several towns on an unprecedented scale. The flood caused the worst damage to Bogatynia and Zgorzelec. “What the receding floodwaters have uncovered must be what apocalypse looks like,” Paweł Fr±tczak, spokesman for the National Fire Brigade’s chief, said in his first statement. “It is a picture of war destruction.”

After the small Miedzianka river burst its banks, Bogatynia could only be accessed from the German side of the border for almost two weeks. Roads on the Polish side were expected to take weeks to repair. Over 6,000 Bogatynia residents were left without electricity and many lost homes, abandoning single-family houses and apartment buildings to stay alive. Around 40 buildings will have to be demolished. Firefighters had to evacuate most residents on pontoons, as the flood destroyed many roads in the town.

In Zgorzelec, the Witka river swelled to over 7 meters at one point, breaking through a dam on the Niedów reservoir, next to the Elektrownia Turów power plant. The plant was forced to temporarily shut down some of its operations.

Near Bogatynia, floodwaters enveloped an all-terrain vehicle in which Zgorzelec county administrator Mariusz Tureniec was traveling. The vehicle was swept off the road, flipped over and tossed into a forest. Tureniec and his driver managed to get out of the car and clung on to a tree to resist the current. Rescue services did not find them until around 2 a.m.

Three people, two women and a man, drowned in Bogatynia. The body of one of them was recovered only three days after the floodwaters passed through the town. The fourth casualty was a firefighter whom the water carried away as he was trying to help build a dike in Radomierzyce.

Nine hundred soldiers and 540 prisoners from local jails were brought in to help with rescue operations in the area.

The government Aug. 10 approved changes to a special flood defense law passed after the floods in May and June. The changes will grant flood victims in Lower Silesia access to relief available under the special law. Deputies broke off from their summer recess to fast-track the changes through parliament. The changes were backed by all 312 deputies and no one voted against. President Komorowski signed the bill the following day.

Under the new law, people whose homes were destroyed by the flood will be able to rebuild them on new sites, buying land from the local authorities. They will be also eligible for compensation. Small and medium-sized companies with no more than 50 employees that were destroyed by the flooding will be offered loans of up to zl.50,000 to clean up after the floods and resume their business operations.

Over 2,000 victims of the August flooding in Lower Silesia have applied for one-off benefits of up to zl.6,000 that the government offered to them as immediate aid. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, 75 percent of these people have already received the aid.

Lower Silesia province governor Rafał Jurkowlaniec has asked the interior minister to radically increase aid for flood victims. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso wrote Komorowski Aug. 13 to promise the EU’s help in dealing with the flood aftermath. He wrote that the European Commission was fully determined to use all means available in the EU to help communities affected by the flood. The main instrument is the EU Solidarity Fund. The European Commission is still examining Poland’s request from the end of July to help the victims of the May and June floods. The Polish government will likely follow that request with another one after the latest flooding.
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