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Germans face second clean-up in 13 months

Bonn (Reuter) - Germans hit by the worst floods this century yesterday tackled the mammoth task of cleaning up the mess for the second time in 13 months.

The rivers Rhine, Main and Mosel, which had submerged whole towns and villages when they burst their banks last week, continued falling by up to five centimetres an hour helped by dry, bright weather.

Long-suffering residents from Cologne to Koblenz and small Bavarian communities in the south knuckled down to work, scraping thick layers of mud off their walls and counting the cost of the damage to their homes and businesses. Preliminary estimates put the damage at around 1.5 bn marks (£640m), little of which is covered by insurance.

Cologne's Catholic Archbishop, Joachim Meisner, said the church would provide DM1m in aid.

Although flooding ebbed in most of Germany, a state of emergency was still in force in the town of Kleve near the Dutch border. Rescue workers there had evacuated thousands of residents amid fears that a dike over the border could collapse. "We are cautiously optimistic," said a local official.

Some flood victims are facing new repair bills when they have barely finished paying off loans they took out after the floods of Christmas 1993.

Barbara Hendricks, a Social Democrat MP, said flood victims had been disappointed with the lack of sufficient public help after the 1993 floods. "This cannot happen again," she said. "The federal and regional governments are obliged to give swift and unbureaucratic help."

In France, flood damage to a key foundry owned by Peugeot-Citroen has brought the car manufacturer's assembly operations to a halt, affecting about 50,000 workers. The foundry at Charleville near the Belgian border shut down on Monday night after the river Meuse overran its banks. The foundry is not expected to be back in operation before next Tuesday.