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dam operator




May 1999


There’s a lot of detail and interest in this interview – not just about the time of the flood, but about the history of the dam (built by Germans and repaired by Poles). There’s some insight into the different authorities involved in the whole episode and a certain amount of bureaucratic competitiveness and confusion, though he is careful not to criticise or blame anyone explicitly. At one point it sounds as though he put his own life in some danger to take away branches and debris which were blocking one of the tunnels/valves in the dam. He’s proud that their actions locally resulted in not one lost life; property can always be restored or replaced, he says, repeating that it’s “something to be proud of” that no one died. Edward clearly felt a real sense of responsibility for the flood and its impact. Operating the dam is more than a job to him. He talks rationally about why the flood happened, and the effect of the rumours that developed as the situation became more precarious.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Moved to Miedzygorze from Wroclaw 19 years ago and started work as the dam operator. Describes the dam: redesigned by the Germans after the first flood of 1903, as part of a dam construction project in Upper Silesia.
Section 2  New dam built from 1905 to 1908, as last one was destroyed by high water. Details of the day of the flood: how they warned people and contacted the emergency units.
Section 3  The hesitancy over evacuating the area; “[the mayor] waited for quite some time for the decision from the Walbrzych Voivode, sitting at the desk, to be quite frank… well, he was … waiting, waiting”. Evacuation started at 11 on Sunday night. At 1.15 am on Monday morning the water started “overflowing on the whole length of the dam”. He stayed with the dam, despite the mayor’s efforts to “evacuate me…I made a joke that the captain never leaves his ship”.
Section 4  The army, fire brigade and police helped in the evacuation. People were reluctant to leave, in case their houses were looted. After a day and a half the water level started going down.
Section 5  Describes his irritation with the “GOPR people” who did not come and help until quite late. In his frustration, he removed the logs himself that were blocking the outlet.
Section 6  Relates how shocked and disturbed people were by the flood: “some of them had a nervous breakdown …”. Regional Water Regulation Management employees helped guard property and check the dam was safe. They prepared for a second wave of flooding (“the rain was heavy, but we were already prepared and the organisation was better”). The initial reaction to the flood was “disbelief from all sides”.
Section 7  Rumours: “one told another, that one added something, and in the end the rumours were a total catastrophe … There even was one moment when the radio and TV announced that the dam in Miedzygorze was breaking, but that was just an effect of the lack of communication”. As a result, people “got scared and were running away”. Believes the flood could have been much worse. Ultimately, the dam worked, “cause all in all, it stopped the first impact … the dam worked”.
Section 8  Says the only help they needed after the flood was mineral water. Got state assistance etc “but generally speaking, people had their own money”. In 1983 and 1988 the Poles had renovated the dam because it “leaked like hell”. Remembers smaller floods in 1937 and 1977.
Section 9  Does not believe the rumours that the Czechs caused the flood by opening some of their dams or that it was divinely inspired: “God’s punishment my foot! … it was water anomalies and that’s all there is to it”. Doesn’t blame any particular organisation, but admits there was much confusion and lack of training/preparation for such a tragedy. Also bureaucratic incompetence: “if you phone the Meteo and Water Insitute in Klodzko and you report the water level and you say it’s this and that, and the woman sitting there in Klodzko doesn’t know what it means … I got quite furious”.
Section 10  He got a medal from Kwasniewski (the president) for his efforts. Talks about the recent modernisation of the dam.
Section 11  He “wouldn’t like to change my job, because I like it here – my job and things, and this … the neighbourhood, I like mountainous areas and feel alright”. When he first arrived, the hard winters scared him “but I got used to it. I’ve got friends, neighbours, the atmosphere is quite good”. Indeed, he now likes the climate “cause I was threatened with asthma in Wroclaw … they cured me. And here I am, I can drink, I smoke … I like fresh air”.