1 of 4. Volunteers rest on sandbags next to the river Elbe at Weder district in the eastern German town of Magdeburg June 9, 2013.  Credit: REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

(Reuters) – Thousands of people left their homes in eastern Germany on Sunday as a dam burst on the swollen River Elbe and swathes of farmland were flooded in an attempt to spare towns, with meteorologists forecasting more rain.

In Magdeburg, one of the oldest cities in eastern Germany and a regional capital, some 23,000 people were asked to evacuate as water levels in the Elbe rose to a record 7.48 meters, around 5 meters above normal and surpassing the level reached in devastating floods in 2002.

"We helped yesterday to carry sandbags to secure the town. The mood is very depressed and frightened because many people have to leave their homes," said resident Liane Nagen.

There have been at least a dozen deaths as a result of floods that have hit Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic over the past week.

Officials said more than 8,000 people were evacuated by bus from towns and villages around Aken, south of Magdeburg. Some took their pets or farm animals with them.

A dam at the confluence of the River Elbe and the River Saale south of Magdeburg burst despite attempts to stabilize it. A dike was also breached, and a crisis unit said the high waters were likely to put further pressure on dikes in coming days.

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