Toll rises from German floods

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The Independent Online
THE WORST floods in Germany for almost 70 years claimed their fifth victim yesterday: a 16-year-old boy who was reported to have been electrocuted after riding his moped into a flooded house in Koblenz. The boy's death brought to five the total number killed in Germany in this week's flooding, which has also resulted in two deaths in neighbouring France and Belgium.

In Kaltenbrunn, southern Germany, a 49-year-old man delivering medicines from a pharmacy was reported missing overnight, feared drowned, after he failed to return from his round.

Thousands of people remained marooned in houses without telephones or electricity supplies and thousands more were set to spend another night in emergency shelters after having been evacuated from low-lying towns and cities throughout the afflicted region.

Flooding was reported along almost all the main rivers in southern and western Germany, especially the Rhine, the Mosel and the Saar in the west and the Danube in Bavaria. Places particularly badly hit included Saarbrucken, Cologne, Regensburg, Koblenz and Bonn, where border guards were yesterday piling up sandbags in the basement of the new DM256m (pounds 85.3m) parliament building as an extra precautionary measure.

Meteorologists predicted that the Rhine, which continued to rise yesterday, would reach the record 10.79 metre (35.6ft) high of 1926 during the night. All shipping had been halted along the river, and many nearby rail and road links closed. But with rainfall abating, fingers were crossed that the worst of the flooding would soon be over and that, with temperatures dropping, any fresh downpours would only be of snow.

The prospect of a white Christmas came as small consolation to the many now facing a wet and miserable holiday period clearing up the mess and adding up the cost of the damage - several millions of marks which will not be reimbursed by insurance companies. As one observer put it: 'Instead of enjoying the festivities, many families will be spending this Christmas pumping out their basements.'

In addition to damage to the lower floors of countless residential properties, this week's flooding has also hit commercial areas hard, dashing the hopes of many shopkeepers banking on a last-minute Christmas spending spree.

With no special cause for the disaster other than unusually heavy rainfall over several days, environmental spokesmen for parties across the political spectrum called yesterday for action to prevent any repetition while members of Germany's Green party urged a halt to building in areas prone to flooding.

In Cologne, where 10-metre high barriers protecting the medieval old town were finally breached late on Wednesday, rescue workers seeking to help some 25,000 affected people had their own complaint. Their work was being hampered, they said, by 'catastrophe tourists' - scores of whom flocked to the city's bridges with flasks of coffee and sandwiches to enjoy the spectacle.

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