BERLIN - Disastrous floods in Germany began to subside Wednesday after leaving at least 19 people dead in central Europe, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared to make her fourth visit to the stricken region.

Muddy torrents that have destroyed once-fertile farmland, inundated homes and stranded thousands of residents continued to surge north along the Elbe river.

But the water level stabilised at around 9.5 metres (31 feet) overnight in the threatened town of Lauenburg, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southeast of Hamburg, still almost twice as high as normal. Merkel was due to visit Lauenburg, whose picturesque centre of half-timbered houses is under water, at 1100 GMT.  She will then head for neighbouring Lower Saxony state, where authorities have also said that the worst appears to be behind them but where thousands of volunteers were still working to reinforce sodden dykes.

In the town of Hitzacker, where Merkel was expected, a small flood wall was keeping the water at bay and protecting the historic centre.

Authorities said they feared damage from tree trunks and other debris carried by the rushing waters.

Rail traffic between Berlin and cities in the west has been redirected due to submerged tracks and the closure of a bridge in Saxony-Anhalt in the centre of the country, leading to delays of up to two hours on some routes.

In Hungary, which has seen the Danube reach perilous levels, said waters continued to recede in Budapest, down to 8.2 metres from nearly 9.0 metres on Monday.

The peak reached Baja, 150 kilometres south of the capital, where the level hit a record 9.88 metres.

"Today we can say for the first time that we can beat this, which is why we need to fight once more, in Baja," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.