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European floods force rail closures

The swollen River Elbe has breached another levee on its relentless march towards the North Sea, forcing Germany to evacuate 10 villages and close one of the country's main railway routes.

As the surge from the Elbe pushed into rural eastern Germany, there was some relief further upstream as the river slipped back from record levels in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt state.

To the south, the Danube hit a record high on Sunday evening in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, then began to ease back. The city escaped significant damage, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban said soldiers and rescue workers would shift their focus further south.

Weeks of heavy rain this spring have made the Elbe, the Danube and other rivers such as the Vltava and the Saale overflow, causing extensive damage in central and southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. At least 21 flood-related deaths have been reported.

The German city of Magdeburg grappled over the weekend with water levels more than 16 feet above normal, although the Elbe has now retreated by about a foot. More than 23,000 people had to leave their homes. But further downstream, a levee at Fischbeck, west of Berlin, was breached overnight, prompting officials to evacuate 10 villages in the area.

Germany's national railway had to close a bridge near Fischbeck on the line from Berlin to Cologne, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. I

Soldiers and volunteers have worked frantically over the past week to fill sandbags and reinforce flood defences across central Europe.

Even with all those efforts, "we should accept that we humans should be humble, that even in the 21st century we don't completely control nature - that is one lesson from this situation," Saxony-Anhalt's interior minister, Holger Stahlknecht, said. He said it was too early to analyze what, if anything, might have been done to prepare better for flooding.

In Budapest, the Danube peaked late on Sunday about a foot above the previous record, set in 2006.

The Danube widens noticeably below Budapest, reducing the threat of flooding, although flood walls and other defences were being strengthened in several locations downriver.

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