Dutch floods drive 250,000 from their homes

A quarter of a million people were fleeing their homes in the Netherlands last night as rivers swollen by rain threatened to burst through the dykes.

Mocking centuries of human endeavour, the rising torrents bore down on defences along the Rhine, the Waal and the Maas, forcing the evacuation of vast swathes of the Dutch countryside.

Communities in the regions of Land van Maas en Waal and Limburg turned into ghost towns as tens of thousandspacked their possessions on to cars, tractors, trucks and bicycles and joined crawling traffic on roads leading out of the polders.

Fearing a repetition of the great flood of 1953, when a collapsed sea wall led to the death of more than 1,835 people in Zeeland, southern Netherlands, the Dutch government yesterday ordered 140,000 people to abandon their homes.

Most were given two days to leave but the inhabitants of Tiel and Culemborg were told to move immediately. More than 100 buses rounded up residents of the polders and took them to evacuation centres.

But, some farmers have refused to move. "I have 6,000 chickens," one farmer screamed over the telephone to a crisis centre. "I am staying put. You don't get me out."

Swelling rivers in the south have already resulted in about 100,000 people fleeing their homes in the country's biggest exodus for more than 40 years.

"We live hour by hour with the fears, worries and emotions of tens of thousands of citizens," Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister, said in a dramatic parliamentary address that was carried live on national television. "People are leaving their homes and possessions without knowing how and when they will get back to them."

Experts fear that the dykes may not be able to hold out against the mass of rising water. The build-up of pressure on the waterways is being increased by strong winds.

At Lobith, where the Rhine enters the Netherlands from Germany, the water level had risen to 16.66m (54ft 7ins) above sea level by mid-afternoon, above the crest of 16.39m (53ft 9ins) during floods in Christmas 1993. The river is expected to peak today.

Mr Kok said that the government would introduce a new Delta Plan for rivers along the lines of the one that was put in place in the 1980s to protect the country from the sea.

"Now that the danger from the rivers appears even more threatening, we have to give form and content to a new Delta plan," Mr Kok said.

"It is an illusion to think that all risk can be definitively removed," he said. "But we have to do what is reasonable even though we know that the elements will always be stronger than us."

Elsewhere in Europe, the floodwaters were slowly starting to recede. As Germans turned their thoughts to cleaning up the mess, politicians scrambled to find someone to blame for the "rape of the Rhine" that helped cause the second severe flood within 13 months.

Officials in states along the Rhine accused each other of poor management that hadforced the Rhine into an ever-tighter funnel that can easily overflow.

"We have been raping nature for 40 years," said Klaudia Martini, environment minister of Rhineland-Palatinate state, where the Mosel and middle stretches of the Rhine overflowed. "The Rhine is showing us this was wrong."

Cologne's centre was still under about 6ft of water and many neighbourhoods were passable only by boat. "The river is going down about half a centimetre each hour," Cologne's Mayor, Norbert Burger, said. "But it will rise again if we get more massive rains.

Other German cities - including Bonn, Frankfurt, Kob-lenz and Trier - were also flooded. Firemen erected barricades and manned pumps against the Main after water flowed into the cobble-stoned streets of Frankfurt's Old Town.

In France, the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, visited the flood-stricken region of Ardennes, pledging special aid for the victims. Insurers set the total damages across the country at FF2bn-3bn (£250m-£370)

In Charleville-Mezieres, the rising Meuse cut off the rescue operations headquarters and split the city in two. The local prefecture was accessible only by boat, as 3ft-deep water poured over its gardens. Six towns in the region were left without drinking water.

Further south, the swollen Aisne and Oise rivers were putting pressure on Compiegne and threatening the Val d'Oise department, north of Paris. Flood waters in Brittany, Normandy and the Loire valley were reported to be receding.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future