Floods begin to recede

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RIVERS AND waterways across large areas of the country were expected to return to normal levels today following some of Britain's worst flooding for 30 years. But as people began to take stock of their property yesterday, the bill for flood damage was put at more than pounds 100m by insurance experts.

The Environment Agency said yesterday that the swollen river Severn had dropped over the weekend bringing relief to hundreds of afflicted householders in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The number of flood warnings fell last night from 108 on Saturday to 77, the agency said.

Malcolm Tarling, of the Association of British Insurers, said some of the claims could take months to process.

He said: "After these floods, on top of the damage sustained in Wales last week, the cost could well be more than pounds 100m. Claims for businesses could take months to sort out, with loss of trade and alternative accommodation to be taken into consideration.

"This has obviously been a bad year, what with the incidents at Easter as well."

In Bewdley, Worcestershire, which was worst affected on Friday, water levels fell yesterday, allowing residents to start a massive drying- up operation. Only two red flood warnings, which signal a serious threat to properties, were in force in the area yesterday. Shrewsbury, which also bore the brunt of some of the flooding, came off red alert on Saturday.

Wayne Baker, of the Environment Agency, said he was optimistic that the chaos was coming to an end: "Of course we will continue to monitor the situation but hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the worst problems in the area."

In Somerset, heavy rain over the weekend brought floods around the Frome and Shepton Mallet areas.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: "The situation on the Severn upstream of Worcester has improved but it takes time for that improvement to be felt further downstream.

"Generally river levels are high in many parts of the country and we are continuing to monitor the situation. But the feeling is that the worst is over."

As the situation improved in Britain, flooding continued to afflict other parts of Europe.

In western Germany yesterday, three boys who went missing near rivers swollen by days of heavy rain were presumed drowned. Heavy rain continued to push up water levels on the Rhine and Mosel rivers, officials said.

Citizens in Cologne on the Rhine braced themselves for rising flood waters overnight that were expected to reach the city centre this morning. Extensive flooding has also hit the Czech Republic.

In the Netherlands, military personnel were on standby over the weekend after flooding in the Groningen and Drenthe provinces.