Last Sunday as we headed on the highway to Zbraslav, a village suburb along the Vltava River on the southern outskirts of Prague, the rain continued to beat down on the car roof. Although I’d packed rain jackets, galoshes and a change of clothes for the kids, I questioned if the scheduled barbeque/birthday party in the garden of our friend’s flat would really happen. It had been raining on and off at our house since mid-week, sometimes with heavy downpours. That morning we’d lost electricity, which hadn’t come back on before we’d left.
It was Radek’s and his friend’s “big” coming of age birthday. We were all in a celebratory mood. At the time, the rain seemed more like an inconvenience – a reason to bring an umbrella and dress in layers. There hadn’t been that much talk of flooding, at least not that I’d heard. Still, as we made our way across the city, there were signs that water had begun to accumulate faster than could be dealt with. As we approached Zbraslav, the low-lying green areas had been transformed into pools of standing water.
When we arrived at the party, everyone gathered in the small flat to wait out the rain. There were a total of 12 adults and 13 children in the small 2+1 flat. Still, the atmosphere was cozy, rather than crowded. The children piled into one room to watch television, play games and hang out, while the adults gathered around a long table where we laid out the food everyone had brought. As we dug into the pizza, salad, cold cuts and cheeses, talk focused on the two celebrants as they fielded jokes about their age and good-humoredly appreciated their “over-the-hill” gifts, which included a rock-star wig and a children’s model sports car. Although the rain never let up, the mood was light-hearted.
The atmosphere abruptly changed when someone announced our friend, Jirka a volunteer firefighter for the nearby village of Velká Chucle, would not be able to come as planned, as he was on-call to help address the rising water. The previous day, a large children’s celebration run by the firefighters had been canceled due to high water levels, and now Jirka needed to help with preventive evacuations and to secure the area. As news of Jirka’s absence sank in, we turned on the television and began to follow the news. The worsening flood situation covered a wide swath of Europe: Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Although meteorologists had called the flood waters that damaged Prague and other cities and towns along the Vltava River in the August of 2002, the “100 years flood,” now they were issuing reports that this could be another “100 years flood,” just ten years later. In the small apartment with the television showing pictures of the Charles Bridge and Prague’s downtown alongside small Czech towns like Zalezlice, the Czech town hit worst in the 2002 floods, the severity of the situation began to sink in. As we listened, additional metro stations were preventively closed, and the Prague zoo tranqualized its tigers in order to move them, along with other animals in the lower part of the zoo, to safety in the zoo’s upper premises. A computer search of road closings revealed that the major road leading out of Dejvice up to the village of Suchdol and along the river to the town of Roztoky had been already closed. We realized getting home would require a roadabout route. Moreover, that we’d probably need to leave Zbraslav in time before the road leading from the village to Prague was closed as well.
One Czech friend darkly mused that she’d always imagined the end of the world happening somewhat like this. She described days and days of rain with no end in sight and predicted that everyone would end up forming “islands,” or small groups, much like the one gathered that day to celebrate. She anticipated that the constant rain would result in depression and warring between groups, which would be the cause of our downfall. Her black-humored thoughts, combined with the constant pictures of flooding on the television and the increasing severity of the situation turned my thoughts to getting my family safely home and praying for the best-case scenario in what had turned into a state of national disaster.
Driving back along the highway around Prague, we reached home without trouble. At home the rains had nearly stopped, at least temporarily, although runoff water poured down the steep hillside. I was suddenly glad that we lived at the top of the rocky hill. I could only imagine how the creek below and the wooded path leading toward Roztoky looked. By Monday morning, the rainfall had started up again. I got up extra-early to take Anna Lee to her school where we would find out if her “school in nature” week-long field trip would be held as planned or canceled. It took us an hour to get through the village traffic and down Evropská Street into Dejvice, a trip which would normally take around fifteen minutes.
At the school, the front hallway was lined with anxious-faced parents, eager children, piles of suitcases and wet umbrellas. Although the school officials assured us that the accommodations where the children were going in southern Bohemia were out of harm’s way, it was hard to promise safe travels with the pouring rain and bad traffic due to road and highway closings around Prague. After several minutes of deliberation, I decided to take Anna Lee home and wait till the rains subsided. Her teacher agreed that we could bring her to join the class at any time, and several of the parents made the same decision. Only eight of twenty were actually on the bus when it finally pulled out. Although it seemed that the school had the situation under control, as a parent I couldn’t really put her on the bus and wave good-bye with a clear conscience, especially after hearing reports that the Vltava waters might continue to rise as water from the north was pushed through to avoid even worse potential flooding elsewhere.
Although Anna did eventually join her schoolmates on their week in nature, having to stand at the school and make the split-second decision whether to send her or not, put my thoughts about the flood into a different category. Thankfully, I have never had to experience the pain of losing my home or my livelihood in a natural disaster such as the recent floods. Certainly, I hope I never do. My heart goes out to the victims of the floods, those in the Czech Republic and in surrounding countries who have lost family members, their homes or their businesses, their property or even a family pet, some perhaps more than once in the past 11 years. I hope with all my heart that the worst of the floods are behind us and that the slow work of rebuilding may soon begin. Unlike my friend, I don’t believe that the end will come in a storm of water. But I do hope that changes can be made to the way we care for our planet and for each other, which might help prevent a future “100” years flood from coming again, too soon.