PASSAU, Germany — Water gushed into the old section of Passau in southeast Germany on Monday, reaching levels not seen in more than five centuries. The city was one of the worst hit by flooding that has swamped central Europe after heavy rainfall.
Eight deaths were reported and nine people were missing because of floods in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. The swollen rivers have stalled shipping and driven thousands from their homes.
‘‘The situation is extremely dramatic,’’ said Herbert Zillinger, a spokesman for Passau’s crisis center.
Much of Passau was inaccessible on foot and the electricity supply was shut down as a precaution, he said. Rescuers were using boats to evacuate residents. Authorities evacuated a prison that was in danger of being flooded Monday, moving 60 inmates to two nearby facilities on higher ground.
But with water from the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers relentlessly pouring into the city, previously dry streets were inundated — in one case going from dry to ankle-deep within half an hour. Markers set in 1954, when the city suffered its worst flooding in living memory, have disappeared beneath the rising water.
The German news agency DPA said the water levels were the highest recorded since 1501 in Passau, a city of 50,000 people that dates from before Roman times.
The German army said it has sent 1,760 soldiers to help local authorities and volunteers reinforce flood defenses, particularly in the south and east of the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to visit flood-hit areas Tuesday, her spokesman said.
Authorities in the Czech Republic said more than 7,000 people had to flee their homes as the Vltava River continued to rise.
Those who left included residents of southern neighborhoods in Prague and the town of Terezin also known as Theresienstadt, the former Jewish concentration camp during the Nazi WWII occupation, which is located north of the capital.
Prague’s central sewage treatment plant was shut down on Monday to prevent damage by the high water. That means sewage from the capital goes directly to the river. The plant may be restarted Tuesday or Wednesday.
Interim Mayor Tomas Hudecek said animals from a zoo near the river had been taken to safety. Parts of the city’s subway network also were shut down.
The Charles Bridge — normally packed with tourists at this time of year — was closed as were some other popular spots near the river at the foot of Prague Castle. Rescuers evacuated some 2,700 people across the western half of the country, where the government declared a state of emergency in most regions.
Some had to leave their homes in the southern neighborhoods of Prague, while further evacuations have been underway in the northern Czech Republic, awaiting a flood wave.
Germany’s national meteorological service forecast more heavy rain through Tuesday in the east of the country and in the Bavarian Alps in the south.
The Danube is expected to swell in the east to the levels of the 2002 flood, which caused about $4 billion in damage.
Volkswagen temporarily suspended production at its plant in the town of Zwickau, Bloomberg News reported. Five cruise ships were stranded in Frankfurt as the surging Main River prevented their departure from Germany’s banking capital.
The Rhine River, an important inland navigation route, rose to the highest level since at least 2006 near the town of Kaub in western Germany, according to data from the German Federal Institute of Hydrology. Barges won’t be able to navigate until Wednesday, and cruise ship companies canceled runs on various rivers.
Train disruptions in southern Bavaria were also reported by Deutsche Bahn. Routes between Prague and Berlin to the north have two-hour delays, the company said on its website.
In the Salzburg province of Austria, a man died after landslides and three other people were missing, a government official said. The railroad connection between Vienna and Salzburg was partly closed after floods damaged the tracks.