Nature’s blind indifference to civilization was amply demonstrated in 1997 when the city was hit by the biggest flood in its history. Starting on July 3, 1997 six days of torrential rain battered Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic. By July 6 the first towns and villages were under water, though worse was to come on July 11 when the Odra and Oława rivers burst their banks by the town of Siechnice. The torrent that was unleashed rushed in the direction of Wrocław, hitting the city the following evening. By morning much of the city resembled a lake, with some parts of Wrocław submerged in up to three metres of water. Electricity was cut , transport paralysed and telephone lines destroyed. The two water plants had also been hit, leaving over 650,000 habitants without water for the following three weeks. As affected sewage plants were overwhelmed the threat of an epidemic loomed. With a third of the city covered by water Wrocław presented an apocalyptic nightmare.
The response of the citizens and emergency services was emphatic, however. Over 50 kilometres of sandbag barriers had been hastily erected, thereby saving numerous historical buildings and treasures; among them the Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski). A massive evacuation project was also launched with thousands of children spirited away from the disaster zone. Over 162,000 people were evacuated, fifty five killed and 1,358 towns and villages had been hit over an affected area that spanned 400,000 hectares. In the days that followed huge swathes of Wrocław were only accessible by pontoon or helicopter. In material terms the damage caused topped 5.5 billion złoty, as well as destroying 100,000 cars, 87 railways stations and 56 sewage plants.
Today a monument to victims and heroes of the flood stands midway across the University Bridge (Most Uniwersytecki). Designed by Stanisław Wysocki and erected in 1998, the three metre sculpture depicts a nameless woman wading through water carrying books - a tribute to the students who joined efforts to save the priceless collection of the University Library.