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Thousands evacuated as flooding hits central Europe

DRESDEN, Germany -- Desperate families were plucked from rooftops by helicopters, cars were swept away by raging torrents and levees failed without warning yesterday as central Europe staggered under an inland ocean of flooding.

Tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated in Germany and the Czech Republic and chemical plants along the Danube and Elbe rivers were hastily shut down. City officials, federal troops and emergency workers across a vast region either raced to prepare or struggled to cope.

After inundating parts of Prague, a surge on the Elbe was now roaring north toward Germany, particularly Dresden, where hundreds were being evacuated. The river is expected to crest early today.

Overall, 16 people have died since the flooding began last week.

Near the southeastern German town of Deggendorf, two levees broke along the Danube and Isar rivers Wednesday and their waters engulfed nearby houses. Families scrambled to their rooftops and were airlifted to safety.

"This is an absolutely life-threatening situation," local firefighter Alois Schraufstetter said. "Houses are covered up to 3 meters [10 feet] deep in water."

Firefighters said more than 19,000 people were evacuated from the flooding in the Czech Republic.

-- AP

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