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Jo'Burg Days: Floods In Lech

After a wonderful holiday in Africa Barbara Durlacher’s daughter, Elizabeth, returned home to Switzerland, there to find her village devastated by floods.

August 23rd 2005:

“Thanks so much, must go … rushing to the airport, taxi’s waiting,” Elizabeth said as she switched off her cell-phone. It was 6pm as we hugged and kissed our goodbyes. What a wonderful five weeks. Tours to Botswana, Victoria Falls and Cape Town, and even a few spring flowers on the wetter edges of Namaqualand; scenery in all its variety.

Sadly, I got on with something else. “No good getting upset, I know I’ll be seeing her again soon,” I thought as I watered the garden, wilted under the fierce rays of the scorching sun after five months of unremitting drought.

Then, unexpectedly, the following day she phoned at 6:30pm. "Only arrived a few minutes ago - just arrived home … it took us 24 hours." She was tired, upset and almost incoherent. Again and again she reiterated, "Mom, it's just too terrible, the damage ..." At first it was difficult to understand what she meant.

“We arrived in Zurich at six this morning and as I cleared Customs, Michael phoned saying, ‘Wait for me, Mom, I’m driving down from the hotel school in Lauzanne, I’m coming to fetch you. Don’t take the train, just wait. All the trains and roads are closed due to the floods.’ It usually takes about two hours by road, three by rail to get home, and the first I knew about the floods was when Nikki called yesterday. Half of our pretty village Lech, in the Voralberg, has been washed away! Two small rivers came down in spate after three days of heavy rain. Dad asked Michael to drive to Zurich to collect me. He also arranged a police escort to convoy us on an alternative route.

“It took us nearly seven hours to get home; even with the escort we barely managed to get through. The roads are in a terrible state, and when we finally got to Lech the damage and destruction was awful. Guests from sixteen top-class hotels have been evacuated. Guests were lifted out by helicopter and food and bottled water brought in. Several hotels and businesses are so badly damaged it is doubtful if they can open in time for the Winter Season. The main road through the village has been washed away, river banks are seriously eroded, hiking paths and forests gone.

You remember the lovely underground tennis and squash court with its sprung wooden floors? It’s ruined; probably the floors will have to be replaced. The hydroelectric dam right up in the highest peaks was drained in case it flooded the main east/west road and rail link to Switzerland.

“Down in the valleys the damage is extensive and will take months to repair. Everybody in Lech is helping and strangers are volunteering. The Fire Service is pumping the flooded cellars and the Army is using heavy earthmoving equipment to reconstruct the river banks. A critical factor will be getting the artisans and workmen as there is such a demand for their services …”

What problems this will pose for the community of Lech. Every bit of rubbish has to be sorted and disposed of according to category and trucked down to the valleys. Wrecked cars and metal is compressed and then railed to disposal sites … some even as far as Hungary and Romania; mountainous landlocked Austria has no landfill sites available. Broken bridges, building rubble and lorry loads of rocks and mud must be disposed of somehow. Furniture, carpets, mattresses; wrecked this and soaked that - the mind boggles … The hidden problems of a disaster of this kind can continue for years. The cost is estimated at hundreds of millions of Euros.

But even this disaster was swept off the front pages when, five days later, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, breeching the levees, flooding the city and seriously jeopardizing the Gulf oil production facilities. It also caused a political backlash against the Bush government due to their lack of preparedness.

Mother Nature hits back?


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