WARSAW: The death toll from flooding in Poland rose to 15 on Monday as torrential rain swelled major rivers to levels unseen in more than a century and rescuers from across Europe battled to prevent further tragedy.
Interior Minister Jerzy Miller said flood levels on the Vistula, the country's largest river, were "worse than expected", raising the risk that flood defences around the capital could burst. "The flood crest on the Vistula will last about six days," Miller added.
Flood waters on the Vistula and another major river, the Oder, "are at a level unseen since 1884" and have inundated hundred of thousands of hectares (acres), national fire brigade spokesman Pawel Fratcak said. "The death toll has risen to 15," he added, saying rescuers on Monday had discovered the bodies of two men in their fifties missing since last week when they were swept away by flood waters in two different regions in southern Poland.
In Warsaw, a major road running the length of the Vistula was closed to traffic due to fears that flood defences would give way. Around 200 schools were also closed in districts of the capital near the river.
Defences have already given way near the south-eastern town of Sandomierz and in Plock, central Poland, causing flooding in several locations in those regions. Thousands have been evacuated across the country but thousands more have refused to leave their homes regardless of the risk posed by rising flood waters, according to Fratczak.
Rescue teams from Germany, France, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic are aiding anti-flood efforts in Poland, he said.
While large parts of Europe basked in their hottest weather of the year, forecasters predicted intermittent rain and storms across Poland until the middle of the week as the massive flood crest moves north on both the Vistula and the Oder threatening flood defences. Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said several billion zlotys in aid would be earmarked to help victims of the flood rebuild their homes and lives.
"At tomorrow's cabinet meeting I will present a draft law on financing this aid. Help for individuals, for families plus aid for infrastructure will of course be a multi-billion sum which we want to spend this budget year but also in future years," Tusk told reporters. Last week, Tusk said the cost of flood damage could reach 10 billion zloty (2.43 billion euros, 3 billion dollars).
In 1997, Poland suffered a flood dubbed the worst in recent centuries which inundated vast swathes of the country, killing 54, causing billions of dollars in damage and forcing the evacuation of over 150,000 people.
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