Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has held out the prospect of massive aid running into billions of euros for the victims of the current flood disaster as rescue teams and volunteers battled to prevent the swollen River Elbe from breaking more dykes along its march to the North Sea.
During a visit on Monday to the town of Wittenberge, in the state of Brandenburg, where residents and rescue workers were bracing for the crest of the floods expected this afternoon, Merkel said her government`s support for the flood victims will not be limited to an emergency aid of 100 million euros($ 130 million) announced a week ago.
"We know very well that the damage will be in the billions," she said after meeting rescue workers and volunteers struggling to strengthen the town`s flood defenses.
The Chancellor said she will discuss details of further assistance for those affected by the worst flooding in this country for more than a decade at a meeting with the premiers of the 16 federal states.
The German Chamber of Commerce and Industry and various experts estimate that the economic costs of the current flooding will be at least as much as that of the "flood of the century" in 2002.
At that time a special fund with a capital of 7 billion euros was set up to support rehabilitation of the flood victims and to finance reconstruction of the damaged infrastructure.
The situation in flood-stricken eastern Germany remained critical as the River Elbe threatened to break more dykes after breaching a second dyke in the state of Saxony Anhalt in the early hours on Monday.
The town of Fischbeck and nine nearby villages were inundated, in some areas up to two metres, after flood waters gushed in through a 50-metre long crack in a dyke.
Around 2,500 residents from those areas were evacuated and the authorities have ordered the evacuation of three other nearby villages as a precautionary measure.
Several long-distance train services between Berlin and various other cities were severely disrupted due to the flood.
The Elbe already crossed the 2002 flood level of 7.35 metres in Wittenberge and the authorities there are expecting the river to peak a new record of 8.2 metres by Tuesday afternoon.
Around 1,500 residents have been already evacuated from the most vulnerable areas while many other towns downstream such as Hitzacker and Lauenberg are bracing for a record level of flooding.
Meanwhile, in Magdeburg, the state capital of Saxony Anhalt, the flood situation has stabilised as the Elbe level dropped to below 7 metres after setting a new record of 7.48 metres, according to state officials.