August 3, 1997 in Nation/World

German Army Joins Continuing Effort To Hold Off Oder River

Associated Press

Military helicopters dropped sandbags from the air and soldiers joined volunteers in fighting the latest breaks in the Oder River dike Saturday.

The top of the soggy barrier crumbled in several places, at intervals of between 160 and 230 feet near Hohenwutzen, on the northern edge of the low-lying Oderbruch region.

Army helicopters lifted off although officials feared that vibrations caused by their rotors could destabilize the dike.

The dike has been splitting lengthwise for days.

Thanks to the army - as well as rescue volunteers - the dike has withstood the rain-swollen river for more than two weeks and protected tiny villages on a low-lying plain from inundation.

“The dike is so full of cracks that it’s a miracle that they are succeeding in holding the river,” Brandenburg state Interior Minister Alwin Ziel said of the workers.

Defense Minister Volker Ruehe said 15,000 soldiers were helping the volunteers.

If the dike burst, thousands of homes in the Oderbruch plain would be flooded and the soldiers themselves could be swept away in the muddy water of Central Europe’s worst flood in 200 years.

The situation remained especially critical in Hohenwutzen and Reitwein, riverside towns at either end of the 40-mile-long Oderbruch. About 13,500 people have been evacuated over the past 10 days.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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