PASSAU, Germany (AP) — Swollen rivers gushed into the old section of Passau in southeast Germany on Monday, as water rose in the city to levels not seen in more than five centuries.
The city was one of the worst hit by flooding that has spread across a large area of central Europe following heavy rainfall in recent days.
At least eight people were reported to have died and nine were missing due to floods in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
"The situation is extremely dramatic," Herbert Zillinger, a spokesman for Passau's crisis center, told The Associated Press.
Much of the city was inaccessible on foot and the electricity supply was shut down as a precaution, he said. Rescuers were using boats to evacuate residents from flooded parts of the city. Authorities in the afternoon evacuated a prison that was in danger of being flooded, moving 60 inmates to two other nearby facilities on higher ground.
But with water from the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers relentlessly pouring into the city, water was advancing into previously dry streets — in one case going from dry to ankle-deep within half an hour. Markers set in 1954, when the city suffered its worst flooding in living memory, have disappeared beneath the rising water.
The German news agency dpa said the water levels were the highest recorded since 1501 in Passau, a city of 50,000 people that dates from before Roman times.
The German army said it has sent 1,760 soldiers to help local authorities and volunteers reinforce flood defenses, particularly in the south and east of the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to visit flood-hit areas Tuesday, her spokesman said.
Elsewhere, authorities in the Czech Republic said more than 7,000 people had to be evacuated as of Monday afternoon as the flood-swollen Vltava River continued to rise.
Those evacuated included residents of southern neighborhoods in Prague and the town of Terezin also known as Theresienstadt, the former Jewish concentration camp during the Nazi WWII occupation, which is located north of the capital.
Prague's central sewage treatment plant was shut down on Monday to prevent its damage by the high water. That means that the sewage from the capital goes directly to the river. The plant may be restarted Tuesday or Wednesday.
Interim Mayor Tomas Hudecek said animals from a zoo located by the river had been taken to safety. Parts of the city's subway transportation network also were shut down because of flooding.
The Charles Bridge — normally packed with tourists at this time of year — was closed as were some other popular spots near the river at the foot of Prague Castle. Rescuers evacuated some 2,700 people across the western half of the country where the government declared a state of emergency in most regions.
Some had to leave their homes in the southern neighborhoods of Prague, while further evacuations have been under way in the northern Czech Republic, awaiting a flood wave later Monday.
Frank Jordans in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, contributed to this report.