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Polish floods threaten Warsaw

20/05/2010 - 17:14

WARSAW (Reuters) - Warsaw residents watched rising water levels on the river Vistula on Thursday as the prime minister said damage caused by several days of flooding across the country could cost more than 2 billion euros (1.7 billion pounds).

Seven people have been killed by flash floods sweeping central Europe since last weekend, five of them in southern Poland, while thousands have been forced from their homes.

In southern Poland, which has borne the brunt of the disaster so far, television footage showed stranded residents being rescued from rooftops by helicopter or rowing across fields turned into lakes after days of heavy rain caused rivers to break their banks.

"I expect the losses will top 2 billion euros and I know we will have to find more funds. We will reduce other spending to achieve that," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters during a tour of the worst affected regions.

In Warsaw flood waters had already entered some riverside restaurants. The depth of the river Vistula is expected to reach 7.8 metres by Friday from the usual three to four metres.

In southern Poland firemen said many people have been reluctant to evacuate for fear of being burgled.

"I appeal to everybody to evacuate when the police or firemen come and say it is time. You must not wait," Tusk said.

"I know these are tragic decisions that have to be made, but it will only be worse if you endanger your own lives and those of the rescue teams trying to get people out of already flooded areas," he added.

Tusk said tens of thousands of people would be affected by the flood and that he had requested financial help from the European Union. France and Germany have sent high-capacity water pumps to help Poland tackle the disaster.

In the ancient capital of Krakow, citizens responded to an appeal from a local animal shelter in danger of flooding, to adopt dozens of dogs and cats for a few days until the waters retreat, the PAP state news agency reported.

Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have also been hit badly by the floods.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Michael Taylor)

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