Thousands of homes are being evacuated along Germany's Elbe River as waters threaten to break through levees protecting several north German towns.

Authorities say some 8,000 people left their houses Tuesday in the Saxony-Anhalt town of Stendal.

The flooding in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary has claimed at least 22 lives so far.

A few kilometers upstream from Stendal, helicopters flew sandbags in to close a breach in a levee through which waters are streaming into the town of Fischbeck.

In neighboring Schleswig-Holstein state the old quarter of Lauenburg near Hamburg has been evacuated due to the rising waters of the Elbe.

In southern Germany waters were receding and authorities began debating how to pay for the flood damage, estimated at more than €11 billion ($14.5 billion).