Prague 1890 Flood
One of the memorials which caught my eye in the 8th District on the edge of Karlin where it meets Invalidovna has the names of 20 people and an abbreviation “Rak-UH 3 Pol.Praporu”. Well the Rak-UH was easily translated to “Austro-Hungarian” and with a bit of extra effort it was revealed to be the 3rd Engineers Battalion of the Austro-Hungarian Army. So now the question was what happened on September 3rd 1890 that caused the death of 20 soldiers.
In England we would call these guys “Sappers” and one of their jobs was the building of bridges. So what had been happening in that area was that this group of engineers had been doing a training exercise i.e. the building of a pontoon bridge between the main land and the Stvanice Island in the river.
The Prague 1890 Flood
Type “Prague September 1890” into Google and it won’t be long before you see one word keep cropping up. Flood. The Summer of 1890 had been long and wet and more rain in early September was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. From September 1st the river started rising and remember in 1890 there was no proper quayside, just a series of jetties and light industrial buildings on stilts over muddy beaches.
The Prague 1890 flood was well underway around 2am on the morning of September 3rd and our group of army engineers, working in the dark, were struggling to dismantle the pontoon bridge as the river was rising. No doubt the trainer (Frantisek Vojnar, listed at the top of the memorial) may have thought that it added some difficulty to the task and was good practice. It had been partly dismantled when, unbeknown to them, three bridges upstream, tons and tons of logs tied in rafts had just broken free of it’s moorings as the river rose more than 2 metres above normal.
These logs hurtled downriver in water travelling at more than 3000 cubic metres per second to be funnelled straight into the pontoon bridge and the boats alongside it sweeping everything away including Frantisek Vojnar. Of the 26 soldiers involved only 6 survived. It was the single biggest loss of life during the flood.
The stone reads “in memory of the engineers from the 3rd Engineers Battalion of the Austro-Hungarian Army who on September 3rd 1890 were swept to their deaths in the river Vltava while performing their duty”.
The Charles Bridge
At 4am on September 3rd a cannon blast announced that major flooding was imminent and to evacuate to higher ground. It was two hours too late for the soldiers and it was about to be too late for people on the Charles Bridge. A build-up of the wreckage in the river came to rest against the Charles Bridge and at around 5-30am one of the central pillar foundations gave way. The resulting collapse killed several people on the bridge, destroyed a second pillar and took out 3 bridge spans. The Prague 1890 flood peaked the next day at 10pm. The bridge took two years to repair but two statues lost in the river were recovered in 1901.