Flood Aftermath in Europe

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz

Produced together with sister column: The Flensburg Files

Clean-up of flooded areas underway. Several small crossings destroyed by flooding, mostly concrete beam bridges. Others doomed due to damage. Linz Railroad Bridge spared flooding and near ship mishap but fate sealed?

Four weeks where fields became lakes, towns became small Italian villages, and farmers and merchants became gondola drivers and boaters. That is the signature of the Great Flood of 2013 in central Europe.  Heavy rainfall caused several major rivers in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries to flood their banks, setting new records, destroying livelihoods and causing damages that are exorbitant financially and in a literal sense. In Germany alone, 10 out of 16 states were declared disaster areas, with the hardest hit areas being in Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Cities, like Passau, Halle (Saale), Magdeburg and Luneberg broke 400-500 year old records with much of the city being under water.

But surprisingly according to newspaper reports, unlike the Great Flood of 2002, damages to the bridges in Europe were minimal. While many smaller bridges were destroyed because of flash floods, the major bridges along the Saale, Elbe, Danube and Rhine Rivers (among them) sustained little to moderate damage. This is a stark contrast to what happened in 2002, where many major crossings were damaged to a point where demolition and replacement were warranted. This included the Pöppelmann Bridge in Grimma (Saxony), a 1719 stone arch bridge that was undermined in the 2002 flooding and had to be rebuilt. While Grimma was flooded out again this time around, the bridge survived the flood thanks in part to the main span allowing water to pass through.

Old Magdeburg Railroad Bridge spanning the Elbe- Photo taken in February 2011

But it does not mean that the bridges that survived the floods and mudslides are safe. Many bridges are being inspected to ensure they are safe for travelling. This includes the Elbe River crossings between Magdeburg and Lauenburg, where the Elbe put hundreds of miles of highways and rail lines underwater together with the bridges. While bridges like the historic Anna Ebert Bridge in Magdeburg are being inspected for structural concerns to determine whether street cars can use it again, it is possible that an even bigger solution to the flooding problem will come at the expense of these crossings as many local and state government officials are looking at all options possible to ensure that the next round of floodwaters stay in the rivers and not flood the banks. This includes raising some bridges and rebuilding and removing those that are hindering the flow of water. This puts such crossings like this and  the old railroad bridge over the Old Elbe River located downstream from the Anna Ebert Bridge, at risk. A link to the bridges of Magdeburg is here if you wish to look at the city’s bridges and their history.

Anne Ebert Bridge- Photo taken in February 2011

One of the interesting facts about this round of floods is the fact that not only the small river crossings were undermined and destroyed by flood waters, but the majority of the bridges destroyed in the floods were concrete beam bridges built between the 1980s and 2000s. This is unusual given the fact that beam bridges were built to allow river currents to flow over and underneath the structure. But as you can see in a video of a beam bridge being washed away in Poland two weeks prior to the Great Flood, if the river current is strong enough, it can cause the span to sag and eventually break it apart and wash it away. You can see the full video here. This was exactly what happened to the bridges in eastern Thuringia and western Saxony in the area of Zwickau and Chemnitz, as these crossings were either wiped out or damaged to a point where replacement is now a necessity. Even if beam bridges are made of wood and steel, many of them crossing these small streams were wiped out or barely survived but are not stable enough to be repaired. This will most likely lead to the question of which other bridge types to be used when these structures are being replaced, for many arch, suspension, cable-stayed and truss bridges survived the onslaught of flood waters with little or no damage. Interestingly enough, these types are being used more extensively for bridge construction here in Europe than beam bridges, which should put other countries (like the US and Canada), their agencies, politicians and bridge builders on notice regarding bridges to be used not only to accommodate traffic across ravines but also be structurally sound against such natural disasters.

To close this series on bridge disasters and the Great Flood of 2013, there are a couple interesting bridge stories to mention that provide some lessons in dollars and sense. One deals with preventive measures to keep a temporary bridge from being washed away at the cost of many thousands of Euros. Another bridge survived a near boat mishap, to the dismay of the majority of the community the bridge is located, for the 110-year old structure is due for replacement but is protected by federal preservation laws, which officials are pursuing to have this protection revoke to allow for the bridge replacement to proceed.  Here are the details:

Flood destroys new bridge abutments and temporary bridge in Zschopau, Saxony:

Many small bridges along this small river in western Saxony were severely damaged or destroyed during the floods. This bridge is one of them. Located along the Zschopau River in the town bearing the river’s name, near Chemitz, the Bailey pony truss bridge was supposed to serve as a temporary crossing as a new bridge was being built replacing a two-span brick arch bridge. Yet misunderstanding plus political inaction and rushing water doomed the temporary bridge as the floods not only destroyed the bridge, but also the abutments of the new bridge being built. This created a stir among residents who were against the construction of a new bridge and had pushed to temporarily remove the Bailey truss from the river, both unfortunately to no avail. The bridge has long since been fished out of the river, and a new temporary bridge is planned at the moment, but at costs that would have been avoided had action been taken earlier.  As for the new bridge, it is unknown when it will be completed for construction crews will have to build a new bridge completely from scratch, even revising their plans to ensure that the structure will survive such onslaughts as this one. An article on the bridge can be found here.

Linz Railroad Bridge survives flood and close call:

Never has there been such discontent towards a bridge as the city of Linz in Austria. As reported last year, the three-span through truss bridge spanning the Danube River has been targeted for demolition and replacement by politicians and the majority of the community, even after a pair of reports indicated that half of the bridge cannot be restored. Yet this 1903 structure has been protected by the Austrian Heritage Laws because of its historic significance to the region and its rare truss type that was used in bridge construction in Austria. This bridge survived a close call as a small ship traveling along the high flowing Danube River almost rammed into the bridge. However, this was not before having to evacuate 120 Swiss tourists ashore prior to its passage. The ship barely made it across the rising river. A few more centimeters and a collision with the truss bridge would have been likely, causing damage to both the boat and the structure. An article on this incident can be found here.  While many were wishing that the accident would have happened and the bridge would have either collapsed or been damaged to a point of irreparably, government officials, which includes the city council, the mayor of Linz and the railroad company that runs trains across the bridge have filed a petition to the Austrian Heritage Office in Vienna to have its historic status revoked, so that the replacement of the bridge could proceed at the earliest in 2014. While the decision was expected last month, there is still no word on whether this waiver will be granted. If the request is denied, the city and the railroad will be forced to consider alternatives, which includes rehabilitating the entire structure. This will take twice as long as the two years needed to replace the bridge. More information on this bridge can be found through the OÖ Nachricht here as well as through the Chronicles, here, which will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge. An organization aimed to save the bridge has been created. You can find them by clicking on here.

Our last part of the Flood Series focuses on Canada and its acute flooding situation which has ripped railroads out of their beds and dropped many important crossings into the water, including the ones in the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Stay tuned!

You can view the highlights of the Great Flood of 2013 in Europe through sister column the Flensburg Files, which you can click on here.

 

 

 

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