May 19, 2010 / 4:25 PM / 9 years ago

Polish floods threaten to damage Auschwitz site

WARSAW, May 19 (Reuters) - The former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, with its museum exhibits, was in danger of flooding on Wednesday following days of heavy rain that have brought devastation to southern Poland.

The floods have caused the deaths of seven people, the evacuation of thousands from their homes and the disruption of power supplies across southern Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary since the weekend. [ID:nLDE64H0LX]

Auschwitz, where some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished at Nazi German hands during World War Two, is located in one of the regions worst affected by the floods and is near the Vistula river, which has burst its banks in many places.

The open-air site is divided into two sections covering a combined territory of more than 200 hectares (500 acres) and includes some 155 buildings, the gas chambers, 300 ruined facilities and hundreds of thousands of personal items.

"We are continuing actions aimed at safeguarding the area of ... Auschwitz II-Birkenau," the museum authorities said in a statement.

"Overnight, high water levels on the Vistula ... broke the security barriers," the statement added. "The flood waters neared the western end of the site, threatening to inundate it as well as nearby villages."

Local people were helping the authorities to strengthen the site’s defences. Some exhibits have been moved to safety.

Auschwitz I, which includes the gate topped by the German-language sign "Arbeit macht frei", which in English means "Work sets you free", is not threatened by the waters, the statement said.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Michael Taylor and Ralph Boulton)

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