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State flood relief still only at a trickle

ŠTRBA - While the rest of the country simmered through an early August heat wave, over 100 communities in central and eastern Slovakia began repairing the estimated one billion crowns ($20 million) in damage left by flooding in late July.
In the village of Štrba, tucked under the High Tatras mountain chain in north Slovakia, residents recalled with amazement the ferocity of the flood waters that had rushed down their street.
When thunderheads broke July 25 over the saturated village, which had been rained on steadily for a month, the cloudburst run-off poured into Štrbský Stream. The stream usually runs ankle-deep and five metres wide, but on that day the floodwater scaled the stream's four-metre-high northern embankment and was flowing waist-deep down a parallel Štrba street within 10 minutes.


Late July floods battered even large urban areas such as eastern Slovakia's Prešov (above, in background).
photo: TASR

ŠTRBA - While the rest of the country simmered through an early August heat wave, over 100 communities in central and eastern Slovakia began repairing the estimated one billion crowns ($20 million) in damage left by flooding in late July.

In the village of Štrba, tucked under the High Tatras mountain chain in north Slovakia, residents recalled with amazement the ferocity of the flood waters that had rushed down their street.

When thunderheads broke July 25 over the saturated village, which had been rained on steadily for a month, the cloudburst run-off poured into Štrbský Stream. The stream usually runs ankle-deep and five metres wide, but on that day the floodwater scaled the stream's four-metre-high northern embankment and was flowing waist-deep down a parallel Štrba street within 10 minutes.

Observing the two-by-three metre concrete slabs that used to form the embankment of Štrbský Stream - now dislodged, cracked and strewn at random - 66-year-old Žofia Blašková remembered the sheer force and speed of the flood.

"When the clouds broke on the southern hills, the water just rolled off the land and came rushing in," said Blašková. "I was sitting in my house very frightened. It all happened in about ten minutes. We didn't know when the water would stop, or if it would stop. Thank God it did."

The water receded after about two hours, leaving a row of 150 damaged homes on Štrba's Štepankovická Street about five football fields long. Houses on the stream's opposite side were saved by the five-metre southern embankment.

Last week, 10 days after the tragedy, locals were still shaking their heads, picking through ruined basements, and setting out water-logged furniture and appliances to dry.

"We estimate about 250,000 crowns [$5,000] in damage," said a middle aged Štrba resident who declined to be named. She said that five windows in her house had been smashed by the flood, the thermostat and electrical system shorted out, a dividing wall separating her laundry room torn down, tiles ripped from the floor, the washing machine destroyed, and her husband's valuable collection of tools and auto parts smashed into scattered, muddy tangles.

"The water was filthy, full of mud and waste water from the [village's overflowed] sewer," she continued. "I had to throw out the clothes in the washing machine and the vegetables from our backyard garden."

Like most of her neighbours, her insurance covers only her home as a structure - not its contents. She expects to receive a pittance in compensation. "A friend of mine's basement was flooded last year and she got 700 crowns [$12]," the woman complained.

State response

Ján Kadubec, head of the anti-flood commission at the Agriculture Ministry, estimated that similar flooding across large swathes of Slovakia had caused about a billion crowns damage to water courses, roads and communication infrastructure. He said he expected that number to rise as villages calculated damages to private houses and agricultural land, and tabulated the bill for clean-up works.

"We'll know the exact numbers next week. We're still collecting the figures from municipalities," Kadubec said.

Whatever the damage, however, many affected villages fear they will not soon be seeing any significant state aid. It was only recently, at a special cabinet meeting July 29, that Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurida urged the Finance Ministry to find the money to cover damages caused by floods in 1999 and 2000. The state still owes the municipalities affected in those years some 66 million crowns ($1.32 million).

According to Dzurinda, when that debt is paid off, only then will "we [cabinet] be able to discuss how to compensate the villages, towns and people who were affected by the floods that happened two weeks ago."

For the time being, Social Affairs Minister Peter Magvaši has pledged 12.2 million crowns for flood clean-up in eastern Slovakia's Prešov region, and 5.8 million crowns to north-western Slovakia's Žilina region. Transport Minister Jozef Macejko was tasked with finding money to repair badly damaged roads and bridges.

But how the state will approach the less urgent needs of affected municipalities will not be known until August 15, when cabinet meets again to discuss the flood damage findings of individual ministries.

People in affected villages will have to wait "who knows how long" for state compensation for this year's damages, according to the Agriculture Ministry's Kadubec.

So far, two state officials have offered minor financial help. One was an individual gift made by parliamentary speaker Jozef Migaš August 2: 20,000 Slovak crowns ($400) to a family of three children and a widow after the 28 year-old father, Milan Šľachtavý, was electrocuted July 27 in the basement of his neighbour's house. Šľachtavý was the only casualty of flooding in Slovakia this year.

Migaš, like all Slovak state officials, has a special Humanitarian Fund which he can use to distribute symbolic help in such situations.

Magvaši also said recently that his ministry would help people with money from the ministry's Humanitarian Fund. However, he added that the maximum sum an applicant would get was 10,000 crowns ($200).

"People shouldn't think that the [Social Affairs] ministry is going to pay all damages caused by floods," said Magvaši's spokeswoman, Jana Burdová. "Our Humanitarian Fund is limited, we're just trying to offer what we can. We decided to offer small help to those whose houses weren't insured," she noted.

Additional reporting by
Matthew J. Reynolds

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