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Budapest escapes floods, Danube starts to recede

An aerial view of settlements partially submerged in flood waters from the swollen Danube River is pictured in Budapest June 9, 2013. REUTER
An aerial view of settlements partially submerged in flood waters from the swollen Danube River is pictured in Budapest June 9, 2013. REUTER

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The Hungarian capital escaped damage from the swollen river Danube, which peaked at record high levels in Budapest overnight and started receding slowly on Monday morning, the city's mayor said on Monday.

Floods have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes over the past week in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. At least a dozen people have died because of the deluge.

On Sunday thousands of people left their homes in eastern Germany as a dam burst on the River Elbe and swathes of farmland were flooded in an attempt to spare towns.

Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos told a news conference held at a dike shored up with thousands of sandbags that the Danube had peaked at 8.91 meters late on Sunday, above the 8.6 meter record in the 2006 floods.

"Thank God the river has started to recede... (and) I have no catastrophe to report," Tarlos said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the same news conference that 20,000 people had worked on Sunday along the Danube strengthening defenses and now the focus would shift to the section of the river south of Budapest.

"As for the stretch south of Budapest the order is still the same as what applied to the northern part of the country: we do not give up any dikes," he said.

In Hungary, some 1,300 people from 34 towns and villages have been forced to leave their homes in Hungary and 44 roads have been closed due to the floods, authorities said on Sunday.

Parliament is expected later on Monday to extend the state of extreme danger announced last week as the southern stretches of the Danube will peak at record highs in coming days.

Budapest residents expressed relief that the worst was over.

"I don't envy those who had to be evacuated. The river looks very stubborn, very scary ... Luckily it's going down already," said Bence Abonyi, 18, walking along an embankment that had been closed and flooded.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Gareth Jones)

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