Friday, 21 May 2010

Floods endanger Warsaw

The river's been rising, rising to levels unseen in over a century. The main topic of conversation in the office today, with colleagues (especially those living near the river) worried that the Vistula might burst its banks. I decide to check it out, cycling home via ul. Bartycka and picking up the flood defence walls near Siekierki all the way to Obórki. From there, back through Okrzeszyn [City każdy obcy będzie bity], Powsin and the Las Kabacki forest. Heading towards the river, I could make out its course from a distance by observing the military and civilian aircraft flying up and down its length.

Above: the river near Kępa Okrzeska. Below: looking south towards Kępa Oborska. To the left, the floodwaters rising; you can see that the water level is much higher than the fields to the right of the wall. From here, it's five kilometres to the Skarpa Wiślańska - the river's escarpment that marks its ancient course. From here, that's five kilometres of flood plain that would have been regularly subject to flooding until the defence walls were built.

On, then, to Obórki. Here, I saw hundreds of sightseers - a strange sight. A flood is a silent enemy, especially on a sunny, cloudless day. There's no sudden, dramatic moment, no noise, no panic, just a slow, relentless rising water level as the river gains volume from all those swollen tributaries upstream. Below: The Jeziorka river, just before it joins the Vistula. Another two metres and it two will burst its banks. Its normal course runs between the submerged trees, in summer it's ususally just ten metres across at its widest (see Google Earth).

Below: The police have roped off the flood wall to stop cars from driving onto it - their weight would threaten its structural integrity. Cars are being moved on by the fire brigade, but there are plenty of pedestrians and cyclists, many of them local, worried about what will happen to their property if the water level rises even higher. Just after taking this pic, the air raid sirens across the river started up. A scary atmosphere.

I covered 54km on my Cannondale today - and put in eight working hours too. And prepared this blog post for you too.

Fingers tightly crossed that the water level will start to subside. Watching the news minute by minute. We are only 30cm /1 ft from critical level. At last, in the last hour, we hear the river's retreated a whole centimetre.

MORNING UPDATE - overnight the water level rose 10cm, so there's only 23cm left.


Anonymous said...

You are a Superman, Michael. I figured that out of the 16 hours you were up, excluding working, eating, showering and writing the blog, you spent over 4 hours on your bike, not counting the commuting time.
Rising river levels are quite serious and I am sure everyone, including the onlookers is taking it seriously. I listen to live Polish radio over internet and read updated news. Stay well everyone in Poland!

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

I too have been following your "rising levels", centimeter by centimeter. I wish you luck.
Some say those water retaining walls, like the one in your second photo, are culprits as much as saviours. They might protect populated, delicate, or vulnerable locations, but they prevent the river from spilling out further upstream into its natural "rozlewiska", create a narrowed speed-track for an increased amount of water, and when they finally get breached, it is often likely with very dramatic consequences.

Michael Dembinski said...

Ryszard - the natural river-spill area of the Vistula in Warsaw encompasses hundreds of square kilometres of prime land on either bank. The big water seems to be occurring more often (three times in the 19th C., three times in the 20th C., and three times within the last 15 years). Strategic thinking is needed, a policy to defend the country better against flooding.

Anon - 'not counting the commuting time' - there's the trick. What would otherwise be two wasted hours becomes time spent keeping fit. I cycled to work, then home from work via Obórki. (Normal home-work-home cycle commute is 30km)And I was awake for 18 hours (06:30 to 00:30).

Anonymous said...

Michael, when in North America you may want to pick this city for biking paths, all of 170 kms. You would be on your bike all day long.