Can Prague Stop the Floods?

The River Vltava yesterday was flowing at something like 10 times its normal volume. Floods have already hit Germany and Austria and there have been reports of several deaths in the Czech Republic. Residents and authorities in Prague must have been fearing the worst: a repeat of the terrible floods of 2002 where 17 people died and around $26bn of damage was done.

The Prague authorities and volunteers have been working to pile up sandbags along the banks of the Vltava to keep the river at bay. Protective metal barriers have also been erected. But have lessons really been learned from the floods of 2002?

Prague Floods, 2002

It was described – like so many natural disasters these days – as a once in 100 years event. The city of Prague, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and a UNESCO world heritage site, was under water and with it some of its most iconic buildings and structures, including the beautiful Charles Bridge.

The flooding began on the morning of 13th of August, 2002 and indeed went far beyond Prague. In the Czech Republic the area of south Bohemia was badly affected and around 40,000 residents had to be evacuated from their homes across the country. In a reflection of recent days, Central European countries had seen day after day of heavy rainfall which had resulted in rivers bursting their banks across areas of southern and eastern Germany. Now the flood waters were reaching River Vltava which runs directly through the old centre of Prague city. Inevitably it seems, the city centre was completely flooded. The transport system was wrecked, electricity and phone lines shut down, and residents evacuated. The authorities came under intense criticism for being unprepared. The transport system, for example, suffered such severe flooding that 17 underground stations remained closed even months after the event. The city zoo also received criticism for not having plans for evacuating animals effectively. More than 150 animals were reported to have died in the 2002 floods.

Floods in Prague 2002
Floods in Prague 2002

Prague Flood Defences Today

An example of the newly installed flood protection in Prague
An example of some of the newly installed flood protection in Prague

Since 2002 measures have been put in place to help protect Prague from floods. Indeed last year there was – on the 10th anniversary of the 2002 floods – a drill to practice putting new flood defences in place. Moveable barriers were deployed outside underground stations and pumps were fired up to clear water from wells. Millions have been invested in flood protection measures for Prague, which in 2012, the Mayor, Bohuslav Svoboda, described as:

“..the biggest and most sophisticated in Europe…Even the lowest barriers are at least 30 centimeters higher than the highest level of water 10 years ago,” he said. “The system should hold out for 80 years without any breakdown.”

On the anniversary of the 2002 floods, the director of the Prague Transit company, Ladislav Urbánek, said:

“Although water is an unpredictable element, we believe the measures that were introduced following the August 2002 floods will avoid the repeat of a similar magnitude disaster,”



According to FloodProBE:

There are several kinds of local flood protection measures in Prague including lines of mobile barriers, which are used uniformly on the entire area of Prague, primarily in the historic urban centre. The total length of these mobile barriers is about 7 km in Prague. The dam bar system was created by the firm Eko-System and was finished only 5 months before the flood in 2002. If a flood is announced in time, appropriate precautions can be taken. There is planned every year training for the correct installation of the mobile barriers in case of a flood.

So, just over 10 years after the terrible floods of 2002 that inspired (or rather forced) all of the investment in new flood protection and defences, Prague faces another test. Let’s hope that lessons have been learned and that the flood defences hold in order to protect one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

New flood defences along the river embankment in Prague
New flood defences along the river embankment in Prague

Sources: Prague Post; Flood Probe

2 thoughts on “Can Prague Stop the Floods?

  1. At the time I’m writing this it is increasingly looking like the Vltava river levels are falling and the worst may be over for Prague (hopefully!). Which I suppose means that the new flood defences did their job, since they were set up in the centre of the city. However, in the suburbs it seems there aren’t as many flood defences and the flooding there has been terrible for many.

  2. katieturner

    - Edit

    I’m glad that Prague didn’t drown. It’s such a beautiful place. I was there last summer and was struck how fast and wide the river is, running right through the city and under the ancient bridges. It’s not at all like, say, the Thames, which seems fairly tame and walled in by comparison.

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