Rescuers winch families to safety in German flood town

A flooded hamlet near Deggendorf, southern Germany, 5 June
Image caption A flooded hamlet near Deggendorf, southern Germany, on Wednesday.
People sit on sandbags in Dresden, 4 June
Image caption All hands to the pump: these volunteers were resting on flood barrier sandbags in Dresden on Tuesday.
A ladybird sits on a snail on a wooden board in Dresden, 4 June
Image caption A ladybird could be seen sitting on a snail - two of the smaller creatures trying to escape the high waters of the Elbe at Dresden.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel surveys the Elbe flooding from an aircraft, 4 June
Image caption German Chancellor Angela Merkel surveyed the Elbe flooding from the air.
Rescue workers pass a flooded beer garden in Passau, Germany, 4 June
Image caption Rescue workers are seen here passing a flooded beer garden in Passau on Tuesday.
Traffic passes on a road surrounded by Elbe floodwater near Litomerice in the Czech Republic, 4 June
Image caption Traffic is seen here passing on a road surrounded by Elbe floodwater near Litomerice in the Czech Republic.

Rescuers used helicopters to pluck families from rooftops in the southern German town of Deggendorf on Wednesday as the Danube flood crisis continues.

Meanwhile more than 30,000 people in the eastern city of Halle have been told to leave their homes after rivers reached their highest level in 400 years.

Floodwater is also threatening parts of Austria and the Czech Republic.

At least 13 people have died and two are missing as a result of the floods.

Rising waters have been triggered by heavy rain following a wet spring.

Eight deaths were recorded in the Czech Republic and three in Germany, while two people were reported dead and two missing in Austria, according to a European Commission update on Tuesday evening.

Parts of Germany have not seen such severe flooding in centuries. However, in the Czech Republic, the water level has stabilised in the capital Prague, where there had been fears of a repeat of disasters in 2002 and 1997.

Records beaten

Helicopters started removing residents from their homes in Deggendorf on Wednesday after two levees along the Danube and Isar rivers broke.

Firefighter Alois Schraufstetter said the floodwater in the Bavarian town was 3m (9.8ft) high. "This is a life-threatening situation," he was quoted as saying by Germany's DPA news agency.

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Media captionThe BBC's Steve Evans says there have been heroic efforts to try to protect cities

Four farmers were rescued at the very last minute by a helicopter before their tractor was submerged, he added.

German newspapers said water levels in the eastern city of Halle were at their highest for four centuries.

Officials said the city was in acute danger after floodwaters from the Saale river damaged a section of dykes.

The level of the River Elbe in the historic German city of Dresden, where at least 600 people were evacuated, is not expected to peak until Thursday morning.

Coaches reportedly ferried people out the town of Muhlberg, about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Dresden, as thousands were told to leave on Wednesday afternoon.

Chemical plants next to the swollen rivers have been shut down and their chemicals removed over safety concerns, the Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, the floods were receding in the south German city of Passau. People could be seen sweeping up muck from their streets.

In the Austrian city of Krems, emergency workers have been shoring up a dyke under threat from the swollen Danube.

Thousands of people left their homes in the Czech Republic in recent days as floodwater threatened to overwhelm flood barriers.

In the low-lying industrial city of Usti nad Labem, the River Elbe spilled over the 10m-high (33ft-high) metal flood barriers.

The main rail link connecting Prague and Berlin in Germany have been underwater, with trains being diverted.

Anti-flood barriers have reportedly gone up to protect the Czech capital's zoo after it was badly hit, causing animals to be evacuated.

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