When the river Vltava flooded Prague in the summer of 2002, life in the city was radically changed by the damages the massive amounts of water did. The Prague metro system was affected especially hard. A Prague inhabitant tells the story of those days, when the system of public transportation that ensures smooth processes in any big modern city broke down.
In August 2002 Prague suffered the biggest floods since the nineteenth century. The disruption wouldn?t have been so severe if the water hadn?t flowed down into the metro system: causing so much damage that the whole city became totally paralysed. Until then, I hadn?t realised how efficient the metro had been in serving the transport needs of this city.
Destruction of an efficient transport system
During a typical day the Prague metro serves about one and half million passengers. Now suddenly the whole city centre had to be served by buses and trams instead. The ?good luck in bad luck? of this event was that it happened during the summer, when many people take holidays away from the city. In total, fifteen of forty-eight metro stations were damaged by the floodwaters, but this included all three major transfer-stations. If you imagine the underground system as consisting of three lines converging on the city centre, you can guess the disastrous effect of several stations on each line becoming impassable. Some of these stations are still not open, even though their reconstruction began immediately after the water subsided.
At that time, I was living and working on opposite sides of the Vltava, the river that radically changed our lives. Before the floods, I travelled to and from work by metro; which took only 35 minutes including the walk to my nearby station. Since the floods, this same journey takes almost 90 minutes. When the Vltava peaked at a level, which couldn?t (according to experts) be measured but only estimated, there was only one bridge open to cross the river. However, only trams were allowed over this bridge, no private transport. Prague was at war with water. The metro had been captured and was submerged beneath the river.
For quite a while after the water subsided, the transport system was in chaos. Buses and trams were running instead of the metro. Only a few bridges were open, and it took several days, weeks and months for the rest to reopen: first to public, then to private transport.
During this time every ?Praguer? has finally realised what the metro means for the city. Everybody was angry: they wanted to blame someone for failing to avert the flooding.
On a positive note many people who had to daily travel to or across the centre, learned to be patient. Personally, I was very surprised how well the ?Prague Public Transport Enterprise? managed this exceptional situation. It seemed to me, that someone must have remembered an old crisis procedure of the communist era, and used it again to cope with this new situation.
Costs for repairs to the metro were estimated at between two to three billion crowns. Work began, and in November 02, a line at last reconnected both sides of the river. At Christmas the second line opened to ?undercross? the river. In February 03, the third line the last two transfer-stations reopened. Entering these recently flooded metro stations was a really emotional experience. Under the temporary lighting you could still see the effects of the flooding everywhere, and they stank of the silt left behind by the raging waters.
Every day you tried to determine: at which metro station you were now able to cross from one line to another; where it was still not possible; where the substitution buses or trams had their stops; how many other commuters might also choose your route in the morning and in the evening; where less people will stand with you in a overcrowded tram; which way was most ?rational? or ?quickest?; what changes might have been made to the whole ?city-transport system? today. You often thought how stupid you were that yesterday you didn?t use that longer (but quicker) or slower (but more direct) way. Trying new routes of transport across Prague was an adventurous activity. Was it possible to discover some new (and more efficient) way of getting from one place to another?
What was really interesting was that almost everywhere you saw people proudly advising each other how best to get from here to there; where it was best to change to this or that tram or bus to another. People quickly learnt where the best positions were (to get in first) at each tram or bus stop. It wasn?t unusual for it to take several attempts to get on your chosen means of transport: winning a place became a kind of ?municipal sport?.
The officers of the Prague public transport-company and of the city?s police force managed the most disastrous and stressful incidents. Unfortunately the later ones, the ?poldov? (cops) had almost no knowledge, to be fair to them, about how to handle these specific situations.
I remember one late November morning, being part of a crowd of people waiting for trams at Prague?s most important junction point. The temperature was at about 5 degrees Celsius. After waiting for an age we were finally informed that a tram had derailed, and blocked, the city?s second most important junction: therefore no other trams or buses would be arriving for a while. Normally (at that time) it was normal for as many as five hundred people to be waiting to change tram or bus. A delay of just fifteen minutes was enough to cause five thousand people to accumulate. The tram station felt like an overcrowded tram.
When I look at the metro today, I think of it differently to a year ago. For a while, the old heart of Prague, the Vltava River, ?swallowed? the younger heart, the Metro, and the city became a little bit drunk.
It is not so bad to once have to realize what a complete collapse of public transport means in my lovely Prague when there is no metro, no metro, no metro?
?I am in love with L.A.!!!?