Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Prague Floods
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 25 August 2002, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 12 September 2020.
The flooding isn’t fun anymore.
After the drama of the rising waters, the relief that downtown Prague had mostly been spared, and the heartbreaking tale of Gaston the seal, we’re left with a stinking mess.
The sewage systems have been flooded in the worst affected areas of the city, and the authorities are handing out masks, gloves and protective boots to residents.
Several metro stations were flooded, and they don’t smell too good either. Much of the network is out of action and it’s going to be months before the metro is fully operational. Instead, the city is running replacement tram services.
For Prague as a whole, the damage to the public transport system is probably the biggest reminder of the floods.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Prague metro but I never realized how much I loved it until now. You don’t miss your water…
It’s cool in the metro, even when the temperature is in the high twenties, as it is now.
The replacement trams, in contrast, are jam-packed and stinky. A colleague suggested that Rexona should donate deodorants to Prague commuters as part of the flood relief efforts. It’s not a bad idea.
Compared to the usual brisk efficiency of the Prague public transport system, it’s like living in a third world country. Or London.
Getting to and from work is an ordeal, but it’s become routine and the crisis itself seems like a distant memory.
The oddest thing about the flooding was the painfully slow pace with which events unfolded.
With the river gaining only a few centimetres every hour, there was never any serious risk that people would be caught unawares by the rising waters, which made the hysterical international media coverage seem all the more absurd.
We live a long way from the river, in a hilly suburb, so we were never at serious risk at home, and The Prague Post’s offices are on the fourth floor, in an elevated part of the city centre, so there was little danger of flooding there too.
It was hard to convey this to worried friends and family, however, when the BBC was running stories at home about Prague being evacuated because of catastrophic flooding. (I picked the worst possible time to throw a 30th birthday party.)
I was dimly aware of the flooding in south Bohemia when the Czech news agency, CTK, first began carrying warnings of flooding in Prague on Thursday 8 August.
At the time, I didn’t take it that seriously, and by the weekend the danger seemed to have passed. I was, of course, very wrong.
The Vltava began rising again on Monday 12 August and parts of the river embankment were closed to the public.
After work, I went for a walk by the riverside, to see for myself how bad things were.
Soldiers were sandbagging buildings on Kampa, an island in the Vltava, but there were also a lot of tourists around, taking photos, so things didn’t seem too serious.
The waters had been expected to peak on Monday night but by Tuesday they were still rising.
Multilingual announcements on the metro were advising people to “stay calm in every situation” – words to live by.
I was a little freaked out by the idea of getting caught on the wrong side of the river, and being stuck downtown.
The Prague Post offered to accommodate anyone who did get stranded in one of their “partner hotels” but I didn’t like the sound of it, and went home early to watch the unfolding drama on TV.
I woke up on Wednesday and learned that the waters still hadn’t peaked, and that parts of town that hadn’t originally been thought to be in imminent danger had been evacuated at 4am that morning. The metro was no longer running across the river now.
For some reason, I was no longer that bothered about getting stranded. Work was beginning to pile up, and I took the tram into the centre prepared to spend the night.
It didn’t come to that. The waters finally peaked on Wednesday afternoon.
The drama is over. Only the smells remain.
a.k.a. Kid Canute