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Receding danger - Floods in Germany are beginning to ebb

Sunday, January 5, 2003

BERLIN -- Rivers swollen by heavy rainfall that caused flooding across Germany were mostly receding Saturday, sparing major cities like Cologne and Bonn from the damage done to lower-lying towns.

Strong winds, heavy rain and snow swept in from the west late Thursday, felling trees, cutting roads and causing at least three deaths as a string of towns and large areas of farmland were submerged.

On Saturday, about 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes near Soemmerda, 120 miles southwest of Berlin. Firefighters feared that the sodden dikes along the Lossa River might give way, inundating the town.

Further south, the Main River flooded the center of Wertheim and residents could only reach their houses using metal walkways. Spa facilities in the resort of Bad Kissingen also were wrecked by the muddy waters of the Saale River and parts of Koblenz were flooded.

Flood alerts also were issued across the Czech Republic, with rivers swollen by melting snow and roads flooded. In the village of Vestec, 30 miles east of the capital, Prague, authorities evacuated all 220 inhabitants after the Mrlina river washed over its banks.

The greatest danger appeared to be outside of the capital, Prague, which suffered last summer from the worst flooding in 175 years. Though waters rose overnight on the Vltava River, authorities said any risk to the city had abated.

In Germany, police in Regensburg said they had recovered the body of a woman drowned after apparently being swept from her bicycle by the overflowing Naab River. That brought to at least three the number of people killed since Thursday in Germany.

Still, the water level on the Rhine and Moselle rivers had begun to recede, reducing the threat to major cities as well as shipping along some of Europe's busiest inland waterways.

A flood wave moving down the Rhine was expected to peak in Cologne at a level of 32 feet -- just below the top of steel barriers erected Friday to protect the downtown area. Authorities in Bonn relaxed their flood alert.

In Saxony, the eastern state hardest hit by the devastating flooding across much of Europe last summer, the waters of the Elbe River overflowed into areas close to its banks in the city of Dresden, but wasn't expected to affect residential areas.

The flood threat is expected to diminish further over the weekend as colder, drier weather spreads across the country.

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