Wroclaw is Poland’s 4th biggest city, a vibrant place with an old city center and a booming nightlife. The mostly tranquil Odra River slices through the center of Wroclaw. But the city and the Odra have had an uneasy relationship for centuries. Because when the Odra floods, the people of Wroclaw know to fear for their lives and their livelihoods.
When the mountain snows melt, and it rains hard in the spring at the river’s source in western Poland and the Czech Republic, the Odra can come tearing through Wroclaw, as it did in 2010 and 1997. The city wasn’t prepared. “The Wroclaw anti-flood system before 1997 was made to absorb approximately 2,200 cubic meters of water per second,” explains Krzysztof Bros, a designer for the construction company URS. “It is estimated that in 1997, approximately 3,640 cubic meters of water per second attacked the city.” The 1997 flood killed 54 people and destroyed more than 700,000 houses, adding up to over a billion US dollars in losses.