DRESDEN, Germany (AP) — The surging Elbe River crested Thursday in the eastern German city of Dresden, sparing the historic city center but engulfing wide areas of the Saxony capital.
Residents and emergency crews had worked through the night to fight the floods in Dresden. The German military and the national disaster team sent more support in a frantic effort to sandbag levees and riverbanks as floodwaters that have claimed 16 lives since last week surged north.
"Everybody's afraid but the people are simply fantastic and sticking together," said Dresden resident Silvia Fuhrmann, who brought food and drinks to those building sandbag barriers.
The Elbe hit 8.76 meters (28 feet, 9 inches) around midday — well above its regular level of two meters (6 1/2 feet). Still, that was not high enough to damage city's famous opera, cathedral and other buildings in its historic city center, which was devastated in a flood in 2002.
Germany has 60,000 local emergency personnel and aid workers, as well as 25,000 federal disaster responders and 16,000 soldiers now fighting the floods.
Farther downstream, the town of Lauenburg — just southwest of Hamburg — evacuated 150 houses along the Elbe, n-tv news reported, as the floodwaters roared toward the North Sea.
In the south, the Bavarian city of Deggendorf was hit by a third levee break on Thursday, with floods gushing into neighborhoods. Scores of homes remained underwater and authorities warned that a dam was still in danger of bursting.
"It's indescribably bad," Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer said upon visiting the area. "It's beyond comparison."
In Halle, some 30,000 residents were urged to evacuate as the Saale river reached its highest level in 400 years.
In nearby Bitterfeld, meanwhile, authorities were trying to find ways to lower waters threatening the city, after blowing open two levees failed to lessen the pressure on flood defenses.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Bitterfeld, promised swift help to those hit by the floods.
"I think you can rely on everything humanly possible being done," she said after meeting soldiers working to pile up vast walls of sandbags.
The Institute for Economic Research, a private think tank based in Cologne, has estimated that the floods could cost over €6 billion ($7.9 billion) in Germany alone.
Many Germans have been taking to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to offer assistance, from helping fill sandbags to caring for pets whose owners had to leave their homes due to the floods.
In the Czech Republic, firefighters said some 700 Czech villages, towns and cities have been hit by flooding in the last few days and some 20,500 people had to be evacuated. In the country's north, the water in the Elbe reached its highest level overnight and began to recede Thursday.
In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, the Danube was still rising from the record levels it reached a day earlier, but authorities said protective barriers have held firm so far.
So far, the floods have killed eight people in the Czech Republic, five in Germany, two in Austria and one in Slovakia.
David Rising in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this story