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Huge Cost Floods Czech*

Huge cost of Czech floods

August 16, 2002 Posted: 3:05 AM EDT (0705 GMT)

Flood damaged: Cesky Krumlov is one of the worst hit tourist showpieces

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNN) -- Floods across the Czech republic will cause billions of dollars of damage to the country's historic monuments and devastate tourism, officials say.

As experts wait for the waters in Prague to recede to assess what architectural treasures have been wrecked, officials warn the sitation in the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov is even worse.

"The town is completely under water," said Zuzana Bluh, spokesman for the Czech embassy in London. "It is doubtful if many of the medieval buildings can withstand the damage."

Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO-designated world historical town in Southern Bohemia known as the "Renaissance jewel", is unlikely to be opened for the rest of the tourist season after its historic centre was submerged.

An annual summer music festival there has already been cancelled by town officials.

The nearby Stone Bridge in the town of Pisek, the oldest bridge in central Europe, is expected to be severely damaged after the River Otava swelled several metres, completely engulfing the structure.

CNN's Mike Hanna says it is too early to assess the damage to Prague's immense historical heritage.

Officials said it will take at least a week to put any sort of price on the damage done by the worst flooding in Prague's 800-year history, but it is expected to reach at least 60 billion crowns ($2 billion).

"Almost all basements in historical monuments in the town centre are full of water," city mayor Igor Nemec told a news conference. "The water is being pumped out, especially from the basement of the National Theatre. We just don't know yet how much damage there will be."

Meanwhile shops, restaurants and hotels and the travel industry are counting the cost of a sudden drop in tourist revenue.

Dan Plovajko, public relations director for Czech Airlines, told CNN the carrier has had 20,000 passengers -- up to 30 percent of its bookings and most of them by overseas visitors -- cancel flights booked for the coming month.

While flights in and out of Prague are unaffected by the flooding, the airline has been forced to close its city centre office, which is in the flood-ravaged area.

The airline is offering to swap flights or give refunds without cancellation charges up to August 19.

Historic buildings in the "Renaissance jewel" of Cesky Krumlov may be beyond repair

"It means that passengers who wish to return home earlier, postpone their trip or leave Prague due to floods may change the dates of their departure or return their tickets without any cancellations fees," explained Plovajko.

One British operator of tourist weekend breaks to Prague, Superbreak, told CNN that all this weekend's holidaymakers had cancelled or rearranged their stays for later in the year.

Business travel has also been hit. A spokesman at Prague's Radisson SAS hotel said that while it was situated three kilometres from the river, there had still been cancellations.

"August is not a month for corporate travel," he said. "But it has affected us and will take a couple of weeks before things start to pick up again."

He added that it would however take months for the city to overcome transport problems as some of the Metro stations were under water and roads and bridges damaged.

In London, Bluh stressed that the whole of the Czech Republic, not just Prague was affected with all the towns and villages along the Elbe river being hit and hundreds of thousands of people facing hardship. "The cost will be horrendous," she said.

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