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Central Europe floods claim at least 10 lives

BERLIN — Germany dispatched thousands of soldiers Tuesday to help cities and towns cope with flooding from the rain-swollen Danube and other southern rivers — reinforcements that came a day after the Bavarian city of Passau saw its worst flooding since 1501.

The death toll rose to at least 10, including seven in the neighboring Czech Republic, where a man was found dead in the water in eastern Bohemia. Nine more people have been reported missing in the floods that have also swept through Austria and Switzerland.

Chancellor Angela Merkel toured flooded German regions, pledging $130 million in immediate federal help and holding out the possibility of more. She told reporters in Passau, a city of 50,000 on the Austrian border, that the damage looked even worse than during the massive flooding that hit Central Europe in 2002.

PHOTOS: Floods sweep through central Europe

About 5,000 German soldiers were called in, as well as more than 2,000 federal disaster workers and 700 federal police officers, to sandbag areas in danger of flooding and provide other assistance. Water levels were still rising in major rivers such as the Danube and Elbe as well as tributaries.

In the Czech Republic, authorities evacuated animals from the Prague Zoo and closed a major bridge in the capital on Tuesday.

The rain in Prague has halted but the Vltava River that runs through the city and flows into the Elbe was still raging, with currents and water levels far exceeding the norm. The famous Charles Bridge was closed as a precaution.

On the outskirts of Prague, a major Staropramen beer brewery on the riverbank was closed as a protective measure. as were several major chemical factories. One of them, Spolana, released dangerous toxic chemicals into the Elbe during the devastating floods of 2002.

Authorities said the level of the Vltava in Prague has now begun to drop but excess water was expected to soon hit the Elbe River, into which it flows downstream.

This year's rise in water levels has been far less than in 2002 so far, but still forced the Prague Zoo to evacuate animals after the lower side of the park was submerged. The zoo will once again need major reconstruction.

Passau, a city built around the intersection of the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz rivers, has been one of the worst hit by the flooding in Central Europe.

After reaching the highest level in more than 500 years in Passau on Monday, the floodwaters there had dropped by nearly 8 feet Tuesday, but cities downstream such as Regensburg were bracing for the water's arrival.

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