Central Europe braces for major flooding

General view of the southern German town of Passau, flooded by the rising river Inn, on June 3, 2013. Heavy rains across central Europe are causing severe flooding.
Johannes Simon

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Heavy rains pounded Central Europe throughout the weekend, triggering floods and landslides that have already caused at least nine deaths.

A state of emergency has been declared in dozens of Czech, German and Austrian towns. Thousands of homes have been evacuated, and regional roads and rail links shut down.

Europe has been enduring months of gloomy weather. Britain suffered the rainiest spring on record. In Italy, it's the wettest spring in 150 years and coldest in 20. Germany recorded fewer than 100 hours of sunshine over the winter — the darkest in since records began in 1951.

Now, the incessant rain that's pummeled much of Central Europe over recent days has triggered fears of a repeat of the disaster of 2002, when floods killed dozens of people and caused $26 billion in damage.

Back then it was estimated floods of that magnitude were a once-in-a-century event. But already this year's water levels have surpassed the 2002 floods in some areas.

The death toll is expected to rise as several missing people have been reported: two in Germany, two in Austria, and four in the Czech Republic. 

The Bavarian city of Passau is among the worst hit — without power and with its historic center under water after the Danube rose 40 feet for the first time on record.

In the Czech capital, Prague, authorities were placing metal barriers along the Vltava river to protect the city from floods. Subway stations and schools were closed Monday in anticipation of rising waters.

Other towns upstream have already experienced heavy flooding. The bodies of a man and a woman were found in Trebenice, just south of Prague, when their house collapsed.

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The Czech Republic deployed its army called in to protect downtown Prague with sandbags. Tigers and other animals from the Prague zoo have been evacuated. The Czech government released the equivalent of $15 million in emergency funds.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit the stricken regions in Germany on Tuesday.

The floods could be prove a test for her government ahead of September's general election. In 2002, a robust response the floods was seen as a factor in the re-election of her predecessor Gerhard Schroder later that year.

The southern German towns of Passau and Rosenheim have declared a state of emergency, and cities in Austria and Switzerland have seen evacuations as well. 

Austrian authorities said one man was killed in a sudden landslide in a town near Salzburg on Sunday as he joined the clean-up effort.

Torrential rains, melting snow, and an unusually damp winter conspired to create the conditions leading to the swollen Vltava and Danube rivers, noted Accuweather, which added that drier weather won't be expected until Wednesday. 

Paul Ames reported from Brussels. Follow him on Twitter @p1ames.