TALLINN - A minor flood last week caused by the extraordinary amount of rain in the Estonian capital sparked concern among both city officials and Tallinn residents over the capital's ability to handle extreme situations.
On July 28 - 29 Tallinn and the surrounding region witnessed 145 millimeters of precipitation, nearly 50 percent more than the average monthly July dose of 79 millimeters, according to the Estonian Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology.
City sewers failed to handle the extreme level of precipitation, and several streets filled up with half-a-meter of water.
An emergency situation arose, and Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water) was forced to cease all routine works and, in cooperation with the Rescue Department and the Tallinn Communal Service Department, implement units to help prevent a worse catastrophe from arising and liquidate the damages.
The most severe damage occurred on Tuukri Street in the downtown area. City authorities had to close the street, an important traffic route, to automobile traffic on July 29 due to the waist-high level of water.
Many buildings began to flood, and a number of institutions - such as the State Audit Office - and companies that occupy street-level offices had to scramble to save their documents.
The rescue department workers pumped out some 10 tons of water from the cellar of the Jewish Community Center and were even forced to break a hole in the wall to get their pump pipe to work effectively.
Some 40 tons of water were pumped out of the cellar of the office building of the Eesti Ekspress weekly.
A number of companies and institutions had to temporarily stop operations as the electricity supply had to be cut off to prevent potential accidents caused by switchboards located in cellars.
Some 100 meters of the Tallinn-Paldiski highway were lost on July 29 as the water engulfed part of the road.
The damage was still being assessed when The Baltic Times went to press, but most of those who suffered as a result of the flood were not holding out hope for any compensation, as "rain insurance" is not a standard part of insurance coverage in Estonia.
According to Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water), by Aug. 1 the situation on the streets of Tallinn had stabilized. Still, though the floods had receded in some places, water still needed to be pumped out of cellars.
"As there was no rain during the weekend, the situation stabilized quite quickly, and there was no threat of water covering the streets again," said Meelis Eldermann, chief of technical operations of Tallinn Water.
"Currently the water is going to the waste water treatment station in the usual amount, and the system can easily handle it," he added.
Last week the wastewater treatment system had to cope with six times the average workload.
The maximum treatment capacity of the Paljasaare wastewater treatment station is 350,000 cubic meters per day, although the average daily workload barely exceeds 140,000 cubic meters.
Experts from Tallinn Water said the heavy rains revealed a number of vulnerable links in the city's water system, which in turn will be studied within the next several weeks to lower the risk of them occurring again.
Another treat that materialized as a result of the heavy rainfall involved the water level in Lake Ulemiste, Tallinn's main source of fresh water. It reached its all-time highest level of two meters and 29 centimeters on Aug. 2 - or just 37 centimeters below the edge of the dam holding the lake.
Water from the lake flows directly into the sea and the sewage system at a rate of 200,000 cubic meters per day, while the incoming daily amount of water from the nearby drainage areas reaches 400,000 cubic meters, Tallinn Water said.
According to a local legend, the "Ulemiste Old Man" who lives in the lake will unleash the waters of the lake onto the city once its construction ends. While the lake is several kilometers away from the city center and residential areas, it is close to a major road intersection, Tallinn Airport and the country's largest shopping center.
International Water UU, an international consortium, holds a 50.4 percent stake in Tallinn Water, while the city government owns the rest.