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As Flooding Recedes, Dutch Head Home, Barges Clog Rhine

February 05, 1995| From Reuters

AMSTERDAM — Dutch roads were choked with cars and trucks Saturday as 55,000 flood evacuees made their way home, but 140,000 people remained in temporary shelters in the Netherlands.

The Rhine, meanwhile, resembled a congested autobahn as barges delayed for a week by flooding got back to ferrying their goods along Germany's biggest river.

The area around the eastern Dutch city of Nijmegen was declared safe, but downstream areas of the Maas and Waal rivers still faced the threat of weakened dikes collapsing.

"The (provincial) authorities have told me there is no longer any danger (around Nijmegen), but this does not apply to territory farther west," Interior Minister Hans Dijkstal said.

"The water levels are receding, but the dike inspectors have not yet declared these places safe," Dijkstal said.

Nijmegen Mayor Ed D'Hondt said water levels had dropped by four feet since their peak Wednesday.

Officials said water levels on the Rhine, Maas and Waal rivers were falling at a rate of two feet a day.

Rhine River traffic was cleared to sail south of Cologne late Friday, leading to sometimes crowded conditions Saturday as barges passed the worst-hit city on their way to southwestern Germany.

Downriver traffic was still blocked at Wesel, about 20 miles short of the Dutch border.

The Water and Shipping Office in Duisburg, Europe's largest inland port, said Rhine barges will not be allowed downriver from Wesel until this afternoon in order to avoid congestion entering Dutch waters.

At Duisburg, the water had receded enough for regular traffic to resume.

In Kleve, a German border town whose residents feared it would be flooded by any Dutch dike collapse, officials lifted a state of emergency Friday evening and allowed thousands of evacuated residents to move back to their homes.

About 10,000 farm animals were also allowed back to their barns on flatland along the lower Rhine.

The river had receded to just below the promenades lining its banks in cities such as Bonn and Cologne, leaving the walkways looking like a beach at low tide full of mud, driftwood and garbage.

Dutch authorities said there was a chance that inhabitants of the remaining evacuated areas in the Netherlands will be allowed home today.

Police said roads leading to the safe areas were choked with long columns of vehicles, even though the authorities were trying to achieve a phased return to prevent congestion.

Almost a quarter of a million Dutch people were forced to abandon their homes last week as ancient dikes threatened to collapse under the pressure of rivers swollen by heavy rainfall and melting snow in Germany, France and Belgium.

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