Wittenberge Germany

Yet another German city on the River Elbe has suffered from terrible floods. This time it is Wittenberge, Brandenburg, a town of around 18,000 residents.

The town is holding its breath in the knowledge that there are known weaknesses in the town’s flood defences. Wittenberge was in the process of reinforcing or building new dykes around the town. These were to be built up to around 8 metres. It seems these floods have come too soon. But thanks to the work of the authorities and volunteers, makeshift dykes have helped to shore up existing flood defences.

The town is situated by 3 rivers, like the Bavarian town of Passau that suffered so badly earlier this month. Wittenberge is situated on the north-eastern bank of the Elbe, and also at the point where the rivers Stepenitz and Karthane join the Elbe. In fact much of the town’s appeal for visitors is its close proximity to the rivers, and the town likes to promote itself the gateway to the Elbe River valley.

Wittenberge has seen record levels of the Elbe in the last few days. Levels appear to be falling now, but flood waters remain a threat The Elbe reached a record high of more than 7.70 metres in the last 2 days, which is about 50cm higher than the floods in 2002.

wittenberge floods map
Wittenberge Floods Map
The dark blue shows the normal water levels. The light blue the flood water levels, as of June 9th 2013

Volunteers have been helping with building up flood defences (one report says at a rate of 140,000 to 165,000 bags per day) to shore up dykes in the area. The concern now is that the dykes and makeshift sandbag flood defences hold out. The record high flood water is putting huge pressure on the dykes. And there are known to be weak points in some of the dykes. Wittenberge, like so many German towns and cities, was in the process of building up or updating its flood defences, with plans to get some dykes as high as 8 metres.

sandbags wittenberge floods
Sandbag flood defences in Wittenberge, Germany. Photo from DW

The Mayor of Wittenberge, Oliver Hermann, understands just what a break in the vulnerable dykes would mean for the town:

If that dike were to break, it’s not only the old parts of Wittenberge that would be flooded… Eventually it would reach all of Wittenberge – that’s why it’s so important that everyone lends a hand, he added.

The flood defence operation in Wittenberge appears to be extremely well organised, and volunteers have come from far and wide to help out.

According to DW:

A special flood operations center in the city coordinates flood protection measures: Getting sand and sandbags, organizing transport and deciding on where to put them. The unit in Wittenberge is based at the volunteer fire company’s building. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the headquarters on Monday (10.06.2013 – video report below).

Until now, much of the flood chaos in Germany has been in Bavaria, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, but Wittenberge is just across the state border from Saxony-Anhalt, and lies in the German state of Brandenburg, the state where I live, and the state which surrounds the German capital, Berlin.

Wittenberge is often confused with the similarly named town of Wittenberg (full name Lutherstadt Wittenberg) in Saxony-Anhalt, which also lies on the river Elbe.

Source: DW

Images: DW; DLR

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