WIDUCHOWA, Poland, Aug. 20 (Reuters) – As thousands of dead fish approached the banks of the Oder River in the village of Widuchowa in western Poland on Aug. 11, locals realized an ecological disaster that struck southern Poland in late July. the country began. West was on its way to the Baltic Sea.
While the residents of Widuchowa searched for tools to remove the lifeless bodies from the river, the government embarked on a crisis response that many scientists believe came too late.
“It’s been the hardest five days of my life,” said Pawel Wrobel, the mayor of Widuchowa, about 400 kilometers from the town where dead fish were first spotted. “I never thought I would experience such a catastrophe. It’s something you see in disaster movies.”
With the help of the local community, he collected dozens of pitchforks, used to lift potatoes, to remove dead fish from the river, which marks part of the Polish-German border.
“We don’t know how to do it and what tools to use, we learn from our mistakes,” Wrobel said.
On August 12, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki fired the head of the Polish National Water Management Authority and the head of the General Environmental Inspectorate, saying their institutions should have responded sooner.
Despite numerous tests of fish and water samples conducted by Polish and foreign labs, and a reward of 1 million zloty ($211,775) for information about the source of contamination, it is still unclear what the Oder, the second largest river of Poland, has poisoned.
“We are focused on the one hand to stop what is happening and on the other to find the reason for this situation,” said Aleksander Brzozka, spokesman for the Ministry of Climate.
Researchers in Germany and the Polish Ministry of Climate have pointed to a large overgrowth of Aleksander Brzoz cheese as a possible cause of the mass die-off.
“The most likely hypothesis is that it was a combination of several natural factors,” Brzozka said.
‘SOMETHING IS WRONG’
Local people told Reuters that firefighters and territorial forces deployed by the government to remove tons of dead fish were unprepared for what awaited them in the river.
The stench around the water was so bad that most of them vomited while working, villagers said.
Local businesses have also been affected.
When Piotr Bugaj, a passionate fisherman and owner of boats, heard a slip and rooms for rent on the Oder what was coming, he knew it was time to close his business.
He asked his guests from the Czech Republic to leave the water and canceled all future customer reservations, who flock to Widuchowa from all over Europe due to the wilderness and diverse population of large fish such as catfish and zander.
“If it is possible with such a tragedy, I would very much like to learn that only what was on the surface dies and no more. But at the moment no one has checked what is currently at the bottom of the river,” he said.
The government has pledged support to those affected by the crisis.
Piotr Piznal, a local activist, has devoted his life to photographing wildlife around the Oder. For the past week, he has documented the disaster.
“It’s hard because the world we’ve been observing and photographing with my boyfriend for the past few years is disappearing,” he says. “I think after what happened in the Oder, it will take years to rebuild the ecosystem… It will all have to be reborn to function as it has done until now.”
Meanwhile, among the residents of Widuchowa, fear and uncertainty reign.
“The dead fish have warned us that something is wrong,” said Sylwia Palasz-Wrobel, Widuchowa’s mayor’s wife, who stood next to her husband on the dirty Oder bank. “Once the fish are gone, who will inform us next time when disaster strikes? We would like to know who is responsible for this.”
($1 = 4,7220 zlotys)
(Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Kuba Stezycki, edited by Alan Charlish and Alex Richardson)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.