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Thousands of Poles Work to Fend Off Surging River

July 31, 2001|From Associated Press

KAMIEN, Poland — Thousands of workers scrambled to reinforce dikes with sandbags and evacuate villages Monday ahead of a 65-mile-long flood wave coursing down Poland's largest river.

The brown waters of the Vistula rose above alert level in the capital, Warsaw, flooding beaches, gardens and sports centers inside the city's dikes.

Emergency crews were on alert and posted fire engines and boats near possible weak points--including the Warsaw Zoo and a promenade--as the water crept higher. The river was expected to crest during the night, and Warsaw officials said they were confident that the dikes would hold.

The surge has threatened dozens of villages in central Poland after weeks of storms and floods that have killed at least 25 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

An army engineer battalion used boats and amphibious vehicles to ferry food and water to holdouts Monday in the village of Trzesn, about 120 miles south of Warsaw, where the ground floor of nearly every house was flooded.

Most of the villagers were evacuated ahead of the water, but some retreated to upper floors to wait out the flooding.

"We are trying to persuade them to leave, but they decided to stay and take care of their homes," Capt. Leszek Stepien said.

About 1,500 residents of the villages of Kepa Gostecka and Kepa Solecka, downstream from Trzesn, were evacuated by bus after rising water breached the Kamien dike at 5:30 a.m., national fire spokesman Witold Maziarz said.

The floods are the worst since the summer of 1997, when storms and rampaging rivers killed 55 people, swamped 46,000 homes and caused about $3 billion in damage.

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