The first Bohemian flood was documented in 1784 and from the late eighteenth century until the present day there have been at least six major inundations (in 1784, 1827, 1845, 1890, 1997 and 2002).
But the two most recent floods have been the most dangerous and have left the widest trails of destruction. The flood in 1997 did not hit Prague, but left a warning for the Czech people.
I could not believe the pictures I saw of Moravia during the 1997 floods, neither could I imagine the same might happen in Prague. But when the floods came in 2002, they came with great speed and strength.
Even when it first became clear that Prague would be hit by the flood people paid little attention because it seemed too difficult to accept. Prague had stood safe from floods for more than a hundred years and the community in Prague could not believe that the flood presented a serious danger. The travel season was close and many people continued to work as normal. Some took measures to defend their shops and houses.
When the second wave of flooding hit Ceske Budejovice with speed and ferocity the atmosphere changed. Fear, impotence and shock best describe the feelings of Prague's citizens when they saw the water levels surging within their own city. The river rose minute after minute and no-one could stop it. People fought hard to protect their properties and homes, but could not fight back with sufficient strength. The Vltava burst its banks and hit the Prague 7 and Prague 3 tunnels seriously.
Due to ignorance the metro lines were badly damaged. It isn't widely known but if the supervisors had not waited so long they could have been saved: the flood protection doors could and should have been closed sooner. Greed gave way to hopelessness.
But it was not only the metro and residential areas that suffered damage from the flood. Prague's historical legacy was also under heavy attack. Charles Bridge, the Old Town with its square, astronomical clock and many historical buildings and art galleries, Malá strana (Lesser quarter) with its palaces and churches - the water touched and damaged everything.
Fortunately nothing was destroyed.
People built a wall on the right bank to protect the Old Town so that if the water did not travel via the sewage system nothing would be damaged there.
By the time the flood had passed the city was marked: many people were left homeless and hopeless. Electricity was no longer working in the damaged parts of the city, the traffic had collapsed and public transport was overloaded.
And so we learned a new way of living our lives. We learned what life is like without ordinary things. People helped each other and there was much assistance from those who had not suffered any damage. Volunteers helped everywhere and Prague improved day by day. Many streets were cleaned, many houses refurbished, and historical sites also underwent reparations while much of the mud was taken away.
Almost one year later, I can see that we suffered a lot. But our brief struggle with nature may have left the city in better shape than before. The metro is running properly now and it is even less crowded than before the flood.
Travellers are back in Prague enjoying the beautiful city and its great nightlife. Many sites which had been damaged now look better than before and people are having fun all the time.
Not much evidence of those floods can be seen today, not much remains visible. But there is still a fear: what if the water comes again this year?
If it does, we are ready. We are ready because we will not stand to see our beloved city flooded again. I hope we hold to this when we hear that the water is coming.
© Martin Stich, Prague, May 2003
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