Poland glossary








district council member




July 1999



Section 1
What is your name?
Zbigniew Dudarz.

What were you doing when the flood started?
Well, to be quite honest, I woke up at four o’clock, turned on the radio and listened to the news. At that time I already knew that the upper part of the district of Bystrzyca Klodzka, namely the villages of Miedzygórze and Wilkanów, had been flooded at about one o’clock, that young people spending their holidays there had been evacuated. The salvage action had been on, practically speaking, since 12 at night the previous day.

So you knew the wave was coming, didn’t you?
Yes, yes. At 4 o’clock in the morning, shortly before 5 o’clock, a few minutes before 5 o’clock, practically speaking I could have done it earlier but I didn’t want to wake up the mayor. I phoned him, woke him up from sleep and informed him about the approaching danger. At 4 o’clock already, when I was watching the river, which flows no more than 10, 15 metres from my flat, I decided the level was exceptionally high, like it had never been before. To be quite frank, I don’t remember. True, as a small child, in 1952, I was five years old then, I saw water in our backyard and ducks swimming there, but the water came not from rainfalls but it was a backflush of water through pipes coming directly to the yard then.. Well, from that time on, the water had never been that high. During the first wave, the same situation happened. There was a huge puddle of water, river water, in the yard. This time, however, there were no ducks, previously there were small ducks, that’s how I remembered them.

Tell me, please, some more about the previous flood.
I was a small child then. Until this day I remember men running around, soaked through up to their hips and higher, our neighbours. I was lucky to be living higher than them in those years, back in ‘52 I saw strange pigs and hens appearing in our yard. In the pigsty, there was no more room, there were strange cows next to the hedge, I was extremely surprised, because there was a certain number of them in the household, and suddenly there was so much cattle there.

What was your relatives’ reaction to what was happening?
It was a funny thing, but I think it is worth mentioning. Some people, especially those affected by the flood, sometimes have quite irrational reactions. I remember my late grandmother, when we were letting all the hens out of the sacks in which they had been brought, her main concern was, “How will anyone now recognise which belongs to whom now?”
Back then, maybe I wasn’t surprised that much, but now I look back at it and smile inside, as if that really was the most important thing at the moment. In fact, it was not only the animals’ lives that was threatened but also people’s. Frankly speaking, if the rain hadn’t stopped falling, the consequences of that flood might have been as serious as those of the flood in 1997.
Section 2
Let’s come back to the 1997 flood then. Can you describe the situation, how the water was rising and how it flooded your possession?
The first wave, it didn’t affect me personally, at least not to the extent the second, evening wave did. At 6 o’clock, the first wave reached its maximum level. More or less at 8 o’clock, maybe 9 o’clock, the water started dropping. Later, I made a sort of a trip round the streets of Gorzanów that are situated rather low. Obviously, I couldn’t get everywhere, but where I did get, I could see how much misfortune had been caused by that first wave. Frankly speaking, hardly anyone suspected that several hours later, the situation would be replayed, that it would be much more difficult. I cannot tell you now what the height difference between the first and the second wave was. Well, it was in the yard, it was everywhere, it covered all my possession by about 50 cm. I think the difference between the first and the second wave was about 1 metre. From the level of the yard and the puddle, the land here is shaped so that there is some area on a lower level, and the house is a bit higher. Yes, I think the difference was about 1 metre.

Were you prepared for that?
Not at all! And it was not only me, nobody expected the second water to come. And frankly speaking, I found out about the second wave from Krynicki, the former mayor. It was one of the last telephone calls I made - the phone call to him. There was still communication. A lot of Gorzanów inhabitants didn’t have any. I was lucky to be able to get in touch with him. And just then, I heard from him, cause I was trying to somehow coordinate the actions of the helpless and badly organised Flood Committee. There was total misinformation, there was no information about the coming danger, although several weeks, months later, it turned out that it was only faulty organisation… That we could have been warned much earlier. Well, you know, between Wilkanów, even Miedzygórze and Gorzanów, there are more or less two hours, maybe even more time, so we could have been warned. But unfortunately, nobody had this bright idea to come a bit down along the river and warn people, say, “take whatever you can” cause there is a danger. In two hours you could really do a lot.
The best example is that, when I had made that last phone call, I managed to get into the car, bring four people and whatever we could, namely the washing machine, the fridge, we managed to put in safe places, on chairs. There was no chance to take it all out of the house, but on tables, in the kitchen, we managed to salvage some equipment. And we made it. And if other people had known in time, I think they would do likewise. I know because I talked to many people after the flood, many of them watched in disbelief at the second wave approaching. Simply nobody expected such a situation to take place.
Section 3
So it’s the authorities who are to be partially blamed, isn’t it?
I mean not partially - wholly. I happen to know how it works. No-one could have stopped the water, but warning people about the approaching danger - they could. I think that it’s entirely the fault of those members of the Flood Committee. Later, I had many rows at the meetings of the Council about that. At home, there was no chance to salvage the furniture, the water was already entering the house, but still I decided to try and save my bees. There wasn’t enough time to take them away, either, cause water was everywhere around, but it was enough to reverse the tractor trailer into the hedge, break it, and put all the bee-hives on the trailer, which I did. Obviously, if the water level had been higher, they would have floated with the trailer anyway. But as it was, the level wasn’t that high and the beehives were saved.

What happened to the rest of your animals?
Some of them were out on the pasture, so they were safe. The young one, on the hand, were in the buildings, the calves lived through, although they spent the night knee-deep in water, actually almost all of them climbed the trough for fear, but they lived through. You see, animals react instinctively in danger and they don’t create additional problems for themselves. From other people I know that, for example, in Zablocie if I’m not mistaken, at the Zaziejas’, their cattle peacefully climbed stairs when made to. When the water dropped, however, there were problems with getting them down. Other than that, it’s all in great symbiosis, apparently nature somehow regulates these things.

What did the water look like?
Like any other high water. First of all, it was very dirty, secondly, it made a terrible noise when flowing. If you take into account that its width at this point here was - what was later confirmed by professional meteorologists - at one point in time, through the Nysa river flew twice as much water as it normally flows in the Wisla river. Well, if you compare the sizes of the two rivers, it gives you some food for thought, doesn’t it? That the Nysa contained twice as much water as the Wisla normally does. Normally, like today, it is a slow, small river, despite the fact that it is its upper part, it is peaceful and slow. And it’s hardly deep enough to cover a man hip high. At that time, though, it was a gigantic river. Between the railway line and this height at the foot of the forest near the household, there is approximately 800 metres. From its level, the normal level, like today, to the level of the highest wave, which reached up to the third step on the stairs, I think, the level difference is about 7 metres, I think.

What damage did the flood cause?
Like any other high water. Broken hedges, uprooted trees. Some of them are still there, lying on the ground. Frankly speaking, it’s another nuisance. If, God forbid, there was another flood, I think, it’s because the levees have not been renovated everywhere, and those uprooted trees still lying in the river bed, cause people have, on their own, cut whatever could be used for fuel. But they cannot remove those giant tree root systems lying there with short trunks. You need specialist equipment to do that, to remove them from the river bed. Here, in direct vicinity, there are two huge tree trunks. They already represent serious danger, causing the water to rise during heavy rainfalls.
Section 4
What was your first thought to salvage?
When at one point, the first wave stopped, I didn’t imagine it could get any higher, I didn’t think it would reach my house. It was quite peaceful. I was thinking rather about those who were directly affected. For the 50 years that I have been living here, it was the first time that I had water in my flat. I always thought I lived high enough, that nothing worse could ever happen to me. So the first wave didn’t bother me that much. I was thinking about people who really suffered damages. I knew what might have happened cause there had been so many floods before that. True, they never were so serious. It happened that two, three of four farms, sometimes five, were flooded when the streams coming from the direction of Lomnica overflowed. Locally, in heavy rainfalls, sometimes individual farms were slightly flooded, but it had never been that tragic in its consequences, with so many farms virtually covered by water.

When the second wave came, were you really frightened then?
I don’t think so, I think my nerves withstood all that till the very end. When I had made that last phone call, I realised it wasn’t a joke. I received information that during the first wave, at the dam in Miedzygórze, the water level was about 30 cm, then I received information that it was 70 cm, later it turned out that it was almost a metre, approx. 90 cm, that is more than they said. But I found out about it only a few weeks later. I think I was alright, I didn’t panic. I got into the car and brought people to help me and my neighbour. Later on people blamed me, they said I knew but didn’t tell anyone, but to be quite honest, there was no time to go there and back, and still have time to salvage what was valuable. I didn’t manage to save any furniture, there was no time for that, it was already covered in water. Television set, the radio, such things as the washing machine, fridge, freezer, we put them a bit higher, but there was no way to take them somewhere higher, there was no time for that. Everything happened so quickly, and the information about the approaching wave was simultaneous with the rising water level. It virtually happened between I went to fetch this friend of mine and... I was lucky to find people who were not busy at that moment. Everybody was trying to help one another. I was lucky to find them at home. The car would have been flooded as well, as it happened at the neighbours’ on both sides. We were so taken by surprise that nobody thought about saving the cars. I wouldn’t have taken mine out either, cause I wouldn’t have known whether to try and salvage my belongings at home or to get into the car and run away, but because there were more people both my car and my neighbour’s were saved. Mine was flooded knee-deep in water anyway.

What feelings did you have during the salvage action?
I don’t think I was afraid then, anyway we had this problem whether to stay at home for the night or go away. I must admit that despite the danger, I was aware that in Miedzygórze there is so much water, I don’t want to quote any figures, but it is a giant water reservoir, and according to specialists, if the dam had broken then, thank God it didn’t, it had been renovated for many years, I often stress this, I would probably have not just 40 cm of water but just about 3 - 3.5 metres. If that water from the reservoir had overflowed, if the dam had broken, I just can’t imagine the damage. I think Bystrzyca would have suffered much more as well, although it is situated quite safely, not many buildings were affected there. The village of Wilkanów would have been swept away from the ground. I think that up the river, the water level would be not just 3 metres higher like it would have been in Gorzanów, cause we are 20 km away, but it would have been some 7 - 8 metres higher than it really was. Whatever actually happened was caused merely by the water overflowing the dam. And if the dam had broken, it is 18 metres high... In the river bed of the Bogoryja and Wilczka, there are such huge, several tonne rocks left.
Section 5
Do you think this flood brought about the degradation of the natural environment?
I think nature itself wasn’t that affected. I mean, it did destroy all of the infrastructure, in the districts within the Klodzko Valley, there are very few small bridges that lived through, practically all of them got broken. A lot of large bridges were affected. Transport was made difficult, sometimes paralysed. It will take many more years - if there is no help from outside - I think some of the damage will never be reconstructed. None of the districts can afford to cover the damage by itself. For example, there is this foot bridge linking the railway station with Klodzka Street. Until this day, people living in this part of Gorzanów as I do, have to walk three times as far to the station as they did before. It is not because the authorities won’t do anything, it’s because there is no finance.

What did this neighbourhood look like after the wave?
Sad, very sad, very depressing. Apparently, nature heals its wounds quite quickly, so most of the places have already overgrown with vegetation. They tried to remover those rocks especially, make the river banks even. Perhaps the situation looks much better downstream from Gorzanów. I mean in the neighbouring district of Klodzko, but the town of Klodzko is healing its wounds itself, and it will for some time.

What assistance did the people affected by the flood get?
Well, I think it was not only me who received spontaneous, unselfish, very warm, immediate assistance. As early as the next morning, people offered their time, transport means, money. A lot of charity services were provided by various businesses. It was genuinely spontaneous help. On the other hand, I must say that the recipients of the assistance were not always behaving properly. Although a few years have passed, I still don’t want to talk about it for various reasons. First of all, I wouldn’t like to touch anyone, secondly, in a way I understand people’s behaviour in that situation. One thing is certain, the flood made people show their real attitudes and moral strength.

What was the people’s reaction to that assistance?
Undoubtedly, at first, the reactions were positive, people were grateful, but immediately after that, you could notice attitudes of requirement, people saying, “give us, we are entitled, you have to...” What’s more, quite soon people started getting envious. If, for example, sometimes a van with supplies stopped somewhere or couldn’t reach a place, because it had left the last item they had in the neighbouring farm, those who didn’t get anything were not happy about it to say the least. It caused considerable discord among people which lasts until this very day.

Do you still bear such a grudge against someone?
I didn’t then and I don’t now. If not for anything else, it’s because of the position of the District Council Member, I have to understand certain attitudes. But I have to admit I still feel uneasy about some people’s attitudes. And let’s leave it like this. I was not the only one who experienced such attitudes. It was also, for example, the parish priest, who offered unselfish assistance then as well.
Section 6
What was the priest’s role at that time?
At first, as far as I know, the priest’s role was less noticeable. The Church’s activity was organised later. Now we are talking about such spontaneous assistance organised on the spot. It assumed different shapes every day, it changed, it evolved, it was better and better organised. I remember taking part in such a meeting at the vicarage with the representatives from the Wroclaw branch of Caritas (church-affiliated charity organisation), and certain functions were assigned then. We were supposed to prepare an inventory of damage, needs, at least a rough one. There were expectations connected with that, although no responsible person including myself could promise nothing for sure. I was personally touched by such ”give-me”, ”I’m entitled to” attitudes. You could feel that almost everywhere in any public office, social assistance office, in the district office, everywhere. I may sound funny, but there were people who, instead of trying to make good the flood damage, they were rather waiting for assistance to brought to their doorstep. In some extreme cases, people took so many various items that they had to throw then away later. It often happened with the clothes, often second-hand. Some people just couldn’t restrain themselves. Later, it was all lying about everywhere.

Did you have numerous cases of looting, robberies in connection with the flood?
I don’t think there was anything of that sort here, in Gorzanów, at least I know nothing about it. There were such cases in Klodzko. But that was widely publicised, talked about in the media. Some people got sentences for that. Apparently somewhere in Klodzko, they caught a thief who did not live there, I don’t know, maybe he was a tourist. From Szczecin, anyway. It only goes to show what attitudes can be demonstrated when facing such situations. When your life is threatened, you can behave in a very surprising way, well, that’s how I would describe that.

What was the assistance you received later, as opposed to that spontaneous one?
Well, at first it was the famous 3000 zlotys. I also think that the decision to deliver this sort of assistance was also in bad taste.

Well, everybody remembered what the former Prime Minister Cimoszewicz said when visiting this area. He said we all had to get insured, and if you were not insured you could not expect any assistance. People found it bad taste. And later, the assistance arrived, much later it was organised. I think it was quite justly divided, let’s say. Still, until this day, there are a lot of people who are not satisfied. I personally know some people who think that, as a Council Member and one of those who were dividing this assistance among those in need, that I abused those means. Of course it is a lie. There were 16 of us, so I couldn’t do anything on my own, and also, all the decisions were made by voting. As an individual member of that body, I had absolutely no influence over the shape of the assistance delivered to individual people. On the other hand, as far the 3000 zlotys from the Government, I must say, there were abuses.
Section 7
For example what?
There were case, not only in Gorzanów, that people who didn’t have water in their households at all, tried to obtain the money. There were such cases, but I wouldn’t like to come back to those individual cases. Another problem was that the government - facing new elections soon and fearing what the results might be - often changed their decisions in an arbitrary way. There is a lot of evidence that they cancelled the decisions made by local authorities without checking the actual situation. That often referred to the benefits to be paid out to people. It is absurd if you’re asking me. But it didn’t happen on one occasion only.

What were the abuses?
Sometimes the money was paid to people whose households were not affected by the flood at all.

Did the district authorities know about it?
Frankly speaking, everybody knew, but if the district authorities’ decisions were questioned higher up, what could you do? I must admit, I didn’t feel fit to fight any of that. Someone some day should make an audit of that. On the other hand, if you consider how many harm has been done to people and never made good, is the flood really the most important thing for the country as such, for the state?

Apart from material assistance, was there any psychological help offered?
Some people cannot cope with that problem until this very day. I know examples where small children, weeks after the flood, when it started raining, they said, “Close the door, the water’s coming again.” This would be the answer, wouldn’t it? Children’s nervous systems are less resistant to such stresses, so they are more vulnerable. Yes, such assistance was needed, it was organised, but perhaps on a too small scale. I know that it was well organised in Klodzko. Here, in the district of Bystrzyca, there was a group of such people as well. Personally, I never sought their assistance, I didn’t need it. I was extremely rational about what was going on, I had this calmness inside, especially compared with some people who had two metres of water or even more. I wasn’t the one to have a reason to behave irrationally.

Do you think the flood was a punishment from God or just a law of nature?
I think it was both. People’s behaviour after the flood was an evidence for me that it is high time we remembered who we are and what we are. Undoubtedly, it was a rare natural phenomenon in this geographical region, with the huge masses of warm air from the south and cold air from the north met exactly over the Massif of Snieznik. This is the rational explanation. We were lucky it didn’t fall only on the Polish side. A large part of it went the other way, although it later came back to Poland anyway. Otherwise we would have had a flood the size of the biblical one. If the masses of water that went to the Czechs, had come through to the Klodzko Valley, we would have had water in the Klodzko town hall as well.

What did the priest say about it? Did he think it was a punishment from God or did he suggest it was all people’s fault?
No, after all the priest would never talk about it this way. He’s a very well balanced person. He’s never said anything like that, no threats or anything. But I, myself, I must say I got mixed feelings about it. I think that from time to time it is God’s finger being waved at us, so that we changed our ways. The envy, sometimes hatred that was manifested, all because of meagre possessions... Yes, this flood showed us how fragile everything is, everything that man can gather for themselves. How little it is against nature’s elements. How little all that meant when there was a real and immediate danger. Two years after the flood was enough for people to forget all that.
Section 8
Did you feel safe in your own home?
I think I did. Firstly, there were more of us, there were neighbours. This safety wouldn’t have been so sure if the dam in Miedzygórze had got broken. I think it would be rather difficult to talk about safety then. True, this is one of the largest houses in Gorzanów, old, built from stone, it is firm. It’s got a history. One thing is certain, because of the lack of horizontal insulation, there was always dampness there. Maybe it’s because of the materials used, now the dampness is even more serious after the flood. It would be much better to leave it altogether, cause living here is like asking for rheumatism later on.

What is your attitude towards the mountains in which you live?
Erm... [thinks for while]. It’s a good question. I’m strongly attached to them. I can’t ever imagine myself leaving the mountains. If I were to move away, the only place else would be, say, the Nowy Sacz area or the Bieszczady mountains. Although the Bieszczady are now empty because of the irresponsible economy there. It’s a wild area now. I think that this flood here and all that happened as a result of irresponsible policies, in the former years, it should be a warning to us, that we have to prepare a new model of functioning and farming in the mountains, and generally - existing here.

Do you think you could live in the flatlands or at the seaside?
No. A two-week stay away from the mountains is enough to miss them. These mountains, and the influence of the climate here, relatively mild winters - this is what I like, what suits me. Maybe it’s just the matter of being used to this area. I wouldn’t like to leave, and the only reason I can think of why I would ever do that would be because of health reasons. Or some other, equally important reasons that I could leave. But going somewhere else to live just like that is just out of the question.

Is there an event from the time of the flood that stuck in your memory especially?
There were a few of them, always ending in swear words being addressed to me, often the people saying them under the influence of alcohol, but enough of that. I don’t bear a grudge against anyone and I would like to forget them. It is not easy to live with such memories, but you have to go on, don’t you. Is there any other choice?
There were instances when someone who didn’t lose any of their, for example, grain, would take a share of grain that was funded by some donator for the benefit of all the affected. I always sadly come back to such memories. On the other hand, there were elevating events as well. When we were delivering poultry pasture, and we arrived at a household where all the chickens had drowned, people would thank us and say, “What use is the pasture to me, I’ve got no chicks to feed.” Such people were very few but I’ rather remember them than those who could quarrel about a sack of potatoes.
Section 9
Summing up...
The most important thing is that we knew what conclusions to draw from that calamity. I think it is worthwhile to work a bit on getting prepared so that you shouldn’t act irrationally in case of any danger, to control your expectations. As a state, we have drawn such conclusions.

What conclusions?
Well, the information that was publicised recently when there are heavier rainfalls. We are trying to be on our toes now. I think the only deterrent is the lack of money.

Thank you for the conversation.