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Europe Floods Flow On

High waters moved closer to the mouth of the Elbe on Thursday, as the river kept thousands of volunteers scrambling to reinforce dikes to prevent further flooding and European leaders discussed how to finance the cleanup.

This followed official action taken on Wednesday, when about 25,000 people were told to leave their homes in four German states as the high water neared, even as the cleanup operation from flooding a week ago went into high gear farther south.

Meanwhile, as the Czech Republic began to rebuild, officials said the flooding caused millions of dollars' worth of damage to cultural treasures, including handwritten scores by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a rare bible.

The death toll in the Czech Republic's worst flooding in centuries hit 14 on Thursday when police found the body of a man floating in a river just west of Prague.

The rain-fed floods that have raged across central and eastern Europe have caused billions of dollars of damage and claimed the lives of 113 people.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government decided Thursday to increase corporate tax for one year to 26.5 percent from 25 percent to help raise extra money for reconstruction. The move came in response to an offer by the German Industry Federation for its members to pay a higher tax temporarily to help tens of thousands of flood victims in the country, he told reporters.

Although flood waters had receded to the point that officials in the northern port city of Hamburg said the swollen Elbe did not pose any threat, tens of thousands of people were still unable to return to their homes in the devastated eastern regions of the country and in the Czech Republic.

City officials had hoped to reopen Prague's famous 14th century Charles Bridge on Wednesday. But on Thursday afternoon it remained closed while inspectors checked whether it would withstand the tourist hordes restaurants, shops and guides hope will soon return.

"There are still tourists here, but nothing like we usually have. I am doing very few tours right now. Normally, I would have about 40 people following me around, now it is just my three kids,'' tour guide Lenka Vrbova said, standing in the ancient Old Town Square.

Hundreds of strained dikes in Germany remained under constant observation. More than 13,000 people filled and stacked sandbags to shore up barriers near Dannenberg, about 50 miles southeast of Hamburg.

As countries count the cost of the damage, the Czech Culture Ministry said the water caused an estimated $7.3 million worth of damage to cultural treasures in the country.

Dozens of museums, galleries and archives were damaged in the Czech Republic as well as Germany, and experts in both countries were rushing to freeze the pages of waterlogged books and manuscripts as a measure to buy time until they can be dried and properly restored.

Parts of Prague remained evacuated because of lingering fears that buildings damaged by floodwaters might collapse. Hundreds of displaced residents were briefly allowed to return to their homes on Wednesday, but only for a few minutes to grab a few possessions and dispose of rotting food.

In northeastern Austria, where the rain-fed Danube River and its tributaries raged through dozens of small towns and villages last week, church authorities said millions of dollars worth of damage had been caused to numerous churches.

South of Vienna, a new string of thunderstorms unleashed more flooding overnight, swamping local highways and several houses in low-lying areas, Lower Austria emergency services personnel said. No injuries were reported.

The prime minister of Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said Thursday his country would ensure the 15-nation bloc comes up with speedy aid to help the countries affected.

"The EU must act quickly to assist all countries concerned," Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels. Denmark may call an urgent meeting of foreign ministers from the 15 EU nations to discuss the flood crisis, he said.

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