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Winter Storm Puts Much of Europe on Flood Alert

January 05, 2003|From Times Wire Services

BERLIN — Several major German cities including Cologne and Bonn narrowly escaped flood waters Saturday that have submerged swaths of Europe, but swollen rivers continued to threaten some communities in the heart of the continent.

As water levels appeared to recede in much of Germany, heavy rains were raising the levels of rivers near about 20 towns and villages in neighboring Czech Republic, which suffered disastrous flooding last summer.

Authorities evacuated all 220 inhabitants of the village of Vestec, 30 miles east of Prague, after the Mrlina River washed over its banks. Meanwhile, the Czech capital remained on flood alert.

The death toll from the unusual weather rose to seven Saturday as police in Germany said a body had been found in flood waters in the southern state of Bavaria.

France, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Romania and the Netherlands have also been affected by the torrential rain.

The Rhine, one of the world's busiest waterways, stayed closed to traffic over a 90-mile stretch south of Cologne. A flood wave moving down the river was expected to peak in Cologne at 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 German state hit hardest by the flooding across much of Europe last summer, the Elbe River overflowed in some areas in the city of Dresden, but residential areas apparently were spared.

The central town of Wertheim was less lucky, with much of its historic center under water and inhabitants rowing down streets in boats, while about 1,000 people were evacuated from the eastern village of Leubingen for fear a dam could break.

But officials said the worst appeared to be over for other parts of Germany, with rivers stabilizing or falling slowly.

In the southern Netherlands, the Meuse River hovered just below flood levels Saturday, while Belgium, swamped by the worst floods in nearly a decade, put its army on alert as parts of the country came under almost a yard of water.

In France, Paris was on flood alert because of fears the Seine would rise higher after authorities issued an initial warning.

An unusual heavy snow blanketed the city Saturday, delaying flights and disrupting traffic.

The four-hour snowfall produced about 3 inches that covered cars and sidewalks. The usually crowded Champs-Elysees was quiet and lined by snow-covered trees.

In Portugal, heavy rains caused landslides, closed roads and flooded several towns.

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