Poland is going through its almost annual round of spring floods, this year appears to be rather worse than usual and is being tagged as “Poland’s worst natural disaster”. Not that anyone gives a damn apart from Polish news channels who are understandably covering it non-stop. Go to the BBC website right now and it does not appear on the front page, nor does it appear on the ‘News – Europe’ page, not even in the lowly ‘More from Europe’ section at the bottom. If you search the BBC for ‘Poland floods’ you get news stories from 2001 – this is worse than 2001 – but who cares, not the BBC obviously?!
At times like this, people fall into three broad groups:
- Those who are in no danger and are watching the news
- Those who have been flooded and are making the news
- Those who are somewhere in the middle – watching the news with great interest whilst hoping not to become newsworthy themselves.
We fall into the third category.
As the crow flies there can’t be many people living closer to the Wisła (Vistula) than we are. There was a couple interviewed on TVN24 yesterday who lived right on the riverbank in somewhere like Włocławek. The interviewer said rather stupidly, “Well, you live too close to the river!”, which prompted the wife to immediately blame the grandparents! LOL. After them we’re the next closest to the river as the picture below will demonstrate.
Extent of the flood
There is nothing other than trees and bushes between us and the Wisła, nothing except a dike (levee, wał) and thank God that’s there because without it our home is 100% certain to be underwater right now. The red splodge is our home. You can see where the river usually flows and the blue hatched area shows how far the river has now spread. Eeeek! The brown stripe in the bottom right is where they are building the new bridge. The only thing holding the water back now is the dike. The good news is that the water is only at the lower level of the dike and it is not fast moving nor putting any serious pressure on it. The water is extremely placid and the only action we can see is in response to the overall water level of the river. If the water level rises, it creeps very slowly a little higher up the dike and then sits there doing nothing very exciting.
The main criteria being used to judge how dramatic this event is are the height the river water has reached and how long it will last. There was a lot of newstalk about the “fala kumulacja”, which I think is translated as “flood wave”, the important factors being how high and how long it is. The flood wave reached Warsaw on Thursday and we were assured the high point would be at around 21:00 that night – the height would be maximum 7.8m and it would be very long. The alarm point for the height of the river is 6.5m. In the end their computer models proved extremely accurate about the height of the wave, which did reach 7.8m exactly at noon today. What they were completely useless at predicting was the time the worst point would be reached and the length of the wave. The first prediction was for the flood wave to arrive at 21:00 on Thursday and last a few hours. They then changed their minds every few hours until their predictions were overtaken by reality. In actual fact there was a gradual build up from an initial 5.35m about midday Thursday, past the alarm point and on to the peak of 7.8m at noon today, just shy of the ‘Critical level’ of 8.0m at which point all hell would have broken loose. The length of the wave has changed from being a few hours to at least four days – Friday to Monday. At last count they expect the river to drop below the alarm point on Tuesday at 08:00, personally I think it will be earlier than that. The level is currently about 7.6m.
With only a cycle path between us and an awful lot of water you can understand why we have been checking the level of the water very regularly since 21:00 on Thursday. This evening was the first time we noticed it doing anything other than getting closer. It is now in a very slow retreat.
With the river being so wide and with few well defined edges or landmarks it is very hard to visualise the increasing level of water. You know the river is high but it’s hard to say just how high. For this reason, TVN24 picked a spot on the river bank next to the Gdanski bridge and trained their cameras on some graffiti. They’ve been there ever since!
GDZIE JEST OLA? (Ola not visible)
On Thursday at midday you could clearly read “gdzie jest” (my pictures were taken on Thursday night around 23:00) and by today the water level had reached into the bottom of the white “Go” splodge. That rise in itself is not particularly impressive but here’s the comparison between normal river and Thursday night:
Wisła at normal level
Wisła on Thursday night
Locally, here at home our only measuring aids were to firstly to track the water’s progress up a track that leads from our place down to the river and in the later stages to see how how it was coming up the dike wall. These pictures should give you a better idea what I’m talking about:
One of the fringe benefits of nearly getting flooded has been close encounters with strange wildlife. There are obviously a lot of confused fish but more exotically late on Thursday night we came face to face with a rather large wild boar who was out grazing on the dike and yesterday we had a beaver swimming around in the water shown in the pictures above. If the pictures available via Google Earth are to be believed, beavers have been felling trees on the spit of land shown under the blue hatching in the top picture, no doubt homeless beavers now.
The frogs/toads in the lake on our estate have been going frantic recently, screaming their heads off. This flood was all part of their plan to remove the humans and take over Młociny. Their brothers in the south of the country caused this problem purely so that Młociny could be flooded and return the land to the frog/toad kingdom. Since they realised it is probably not going to work out as they planned, the two different tribes have been at each others throats something rotten.
In the end I think that despite our living so close to the river we’ve been saved by a few factors:
- Water doesn’t care how close you are to it it just worries about gravity, flow, resistance….
- We are at a relatively high elevation. Before we had any flooding there would have been major problems at the zoo, Mariensztat (before us) & Łomianki (after us) as a minimum, which might have eased the pressure on us anyway.
- We are on the gentle side of the river. You can see from the topography that the water on our side is slow moving with the main flow being on the other side. This means the water that has reached us is very placid and not likely to hassle the dike too much.
- The water didn’t get over 7.8m high. I actually think we could have managed the ‘critical level’ of 8.0m but at 8.5m we’d have been getting out of Dodge.
- Somebody had the foresight to build a dike.
Of course, try telling any of this to my mother-in-law and you’re on a hiding to nothing. The lady has been watching too much news and is totally convinced that no matter what I say this water is going to defy the laws of physics, jump over the dike and kill us all. She’s been like a bi-hourly alarm clock that calls you up and lists all the bad things that can and probably will happen to us at any moment, most likely while we are asleep. This isn’t normal water, this is killer zombie flood-water, a whole different ball game! Anyway, it’s been made clear that if we all die horrible deaths it is entirely my fault, so nothing new there then.
Dear Polish government. Enough is enough my friends. It’s all very well getting your wellies on and sploshing around shaking everyone’s hand and looking concerned but this flooding has gone too far, too often. Stopping this from happening is not rocket science, just go visit any other country and look at the large scale construction that has been done (often with EU money) to divert, control or contain flood water so that things like this don’t happen every year. I’m certain that your government has already been presented with various schemes of how to fix it and has the means to find the funding so why are you not doing anything about it? It could well be that the fact the international press are ignoring this is because you don’t seem to care too much about it yourselves. But then this is just another one of those annoying “big jobs” like a decent road system, well kept hospitals, well paid public service workers and so on that you’d prefer to ignore or leave for someone else to deal with because they cost a fortune and won’t win you votes.
It is time this country started taking stuff like this seriously. Took a long term view and made some tough decisions that whilst they might not be popular, are the right thing to do. It’s a rusty ship with holes in the hull and all the government keep doing is painting it and putting plasters over the holes. Not good enough, this country deserves better leadership than that and these thousands of people whose lives have been damaged by this flood should be demanding to know why this has happened and when it’s going to end. Actually they should hire some American lawyers and lodge a stupendously massive claim for compensation.