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    Dead fish, depression on the banks of the Oder

    CIGACICE, POLAND (AFP) – Appearing tired and stressed, Piotr Wloch looks out dejectedly at his empty tourist boats on the Oder river after an environmental disaster that has killed thousands of fish.

    Like many local businesses, Wloch has seen bookings plunge by 90 per cent following the as yet unexplained catastrophe on the lush banks of a river between Poland and Germany.

    “I’m just starting to realise the scale of what happened,” Wloch told AFP.

    “Yesterday, I slept all day because I was depressed, unable to move,” he said.

    In the empty tourist marina of Cigacice in Poland, firefighters in a rubber dinghy are still removing dead fish while environmental agency workers take water samples for tests. The stench of dead fish fills the air.

    Between 200 and 300 kilogrammes of dead fish have been removed in Cigacice in the past few days – out of around 300 tonnes in total from the Oder since the start of August, officials said.

    “Everyone is afraid. Only some curious people pop in to have a look, but life has stopped,” said Lukasz Duch, director of a local sports centre.

    “Before the pollution, on a good weekend, Cigacice would draw between 5,000 and 10,000 tourists.

    “This place was full of life… Now businesses are making nothing in high season,” he said.

    While the first signs of pollution appeared at the end of July, the area around Cigacice was only affected on August 8. Thousands of dead fish began appearing in the water. In the region as a whole, residents and firefighters rushed to their river in an effort to clean it up.

    Poland’s government only reacted on August 12, sparking widespread criticism from both local Polish authorities and Germany.

    “If we had the information two weeks earlier, we would have prepared,” said Wojciech Soltys, the mayor of Sulechow, the municipality where Cigacice is located. “Now we are still waiting for clear information. What happened? When will we be able to go back to the river?”

    The Oder begins in the Czech Republic before passing into Poland where it forms a natural border with Germany and then ends up in the Baltic Sea. Until the end of the 1990s, it was heavily polluted – an industrial legacy of the communist era.

    In 1997, following massive flooding, the river cleaned up naturally and people began returning to its banks.

    Wloch was part of this movement.

    “We worked for a long time for people to come and bathe in the river, relax here. In the 1980s and 1990s it looked terrible,” he said.

    “Now, people are afraid of the river again. It will be difficult to restore this confidence,” said Wloch, who has seen 12 years of work disappear in a moment.

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