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Flood refugees return home

Tiel - Dutch refugees poured back to their precarious polder life yesterday; 250,000 refugees were given the go-ahead to return; and about 70,000 had been allowed to go home in previous days. Most returnees crowded roads pulling their most treasu red belongings in trailers and campers.

The flooding of the Maas and Waal rivers had threatened to wash away hundreds of miles of dykes, and inundate cities and towns in the below-sea level polder areas. Most of the main Dutch rivers and canals will open to shipping today. The Dutch waterways are a key artery through north-west Europe, linking the giant Dutch ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam with the industrial heartlands of Germany and Switzerland.They were closed on 29 January to try to prevent damage to the country's ancient dikes during some of the worst floods this century.

The river shipping ban has stranded as much as 85 per cent of north-west Europe's oil and commodity barge fleet. ap