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By Petr Josek

Written by: Staff

ZNOJMO, Czech Republic, Mar 30 (Reuters) Emergency crews aided by soldiers were reinforcing river banks in the southern Czech Republic today as flood waters rose, forcing thousands from their homes.

Rivers across central Europe have been swelling fast due to rain and unusually warm weather which melted snow that fell late into the winter.

The worst hit area in the Czech Republic was near the town of Znojmo, 200 km (120 miles) southeast of Prague, where 10,000 people were evacuated from low lying areas along the Dyje River near the border with Austria.

Residents in the German states of Bavaria and Saxony were also bracing for flood waters as weather forecasters predicted rain for much of the region through the weekend.

''The situation looks threatening,'' said Regional Governor Stanislav Juranek who called a state of emergency for his south Moravia region which includes Znojmo.

The Czech cabinet has called an emergency meeting today to discuss the situation and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said he would cut short a trip to Egypt to return home to assess the situation.

About a thousand people were evacuated overnight from the eastern German town of Bad Schandau, close to the river Elbe in Saxony. Other communities were readying to leave their homes.

A spokeswoman for the local government in the state's Saxon Switzerland region said authorities were planning to evacuate hundreds of residents from streets close to the river.

Experts said they expected the Elbe river to rise to around 7 metres at points in the Saxon capital of Dresden.

On Friday, authorities expect the river to rise to around 7.50 metres, the highest level since floods in 2002 killed 17 people and wreaked billions of dollars of damage to property.

Then, the river reached a highpoint of 9.40 metres, compared with its normal depth of around 2 metres.

Authorities in Prague reinforced retaining walls along the banks of the Vltava River to protect the historic centre. The Prague Zoo, where more than 100 animals drowned in 2002, was also preparing to evacuate animals.


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