Brussels, 13 Apr 2006
The torrential flooding that has hit the Elbe River in northern Germany has been closely monitored from space by the ERS-2 satellite belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA) to help officials deal with the disaster.
The flooding has hit several towns along the Baltic coast, where the river Elbe has risen to almost three times its normal levels, particularly affecting the town of Hitzacker, 100 km inland from the Baltic Sea, and home to many 16th and 17th century architectural gems. Flooding can be easily observed from space, which is helpful for mitigating damage - flooding is also the costliest form of natural damage.
In October 2000, ESA became a founder member of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, set up to present a joint front when responding to major natural disasters and those brought about by human activity.
The German Joint Information and Situation Centre (GMLZ) requested maps of the flooded region. The Charter processed the request and recruited the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to produce maps using satellite images. The ERS-2 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images were some of the first used to delineate the flooded areas.
The federal departments for flood protection and water management of the German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, along with the city of Dresden's Department for Environment, and the Potsdam police department, have used the maps extensively to coordinate their forces.
Hitzacker officials reported that the Elbe had reached levels 13 cm higher than during the floods of 2002, which were the worst in Central and Eastern Europe for 150 years. Since 11 April, the waters have receded but dykes and other defences are still saturated and under strain.
More than 3,000 workers are still using the satellite images to maximize official efforts to plug any gaps, reinforce defences and lay down sandbags along the Elbe.