Four die in Rhine floods

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BERLIN (AP) - The Rhine River overflowed its banks yesterday, flooding Cologne's old town and parts of Bonn and Koblenz after three days of pounding rains. Further south, Heidelberg was awash in waters of the raging Neckar River. German news media said four people had been killed.

With stores and offices closed, Christmas shopping was sharply curtailed in dozens of cities in southern and south-western Germany. Adding to the gloom, Germany's insurance companies announced that their policies generally exclude flood damage in most areas.

Emergency crews checked hastily erected dikes and other barriers, hoping to hold back some of the worst flooding in decades. US soldiers stationed in Germany joined rescue crews in several cities. Weather forecasters predicted more rain and snow in days to come.

Federal authorities halted shipping traffic on the Rhine, the main north-south commercial waterway in Europe. The closure was expected to last at least until the weekend, said the Water and Shipping office in Bingen. The flooding stretched from Trier, Germany's oldest city near the border with Luxembourg, to Saarbrucken along the French border and to Regensburg in eastern Bavaria.

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