Heavy rain, storms hit Dutch coast

2012-01-05 22:53
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Netherlands flooding

Heavy rain and storms disrupted operations at the Dutch port of Rotterdam, held up flights at Schiphol airport and forced authorities to evacuate people and livestock in case of floods.

Tolbert - Heavy rain and storms on Thursday disrupted operations at Rotterdam, Europe's biggest port, held up flights from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and forced Dutch authorities to evacuate people and livestock in case of floods.

At least 13 ships could not leave or enter Rotterdam port because pilot services - required by large ships or those carrying hazardous materials - were on hold.

Strong winds stopped some container terminal operations, a spokesperson said. But officials had so far not had to operate a water defence system which shuts off part of the port, a major transit point for commodities and manufactured goods, he added.

The Ministry of Infrastructure warned of high water levels along the coast. Weather conditions are expected to improve, with less rain forecast for Friday, Dutch meteorological institute KNMI said.

More than half the population in the Netherlands lives in areas below sea level where two-thirds of the country's GDP is generated, according to a 2008 government commission. The low-lying country suffered from devastating floods in 1953 which killed nearly 2 000 people and caused heavy damage to property.

The Dutch authorities asked nearly 100 people to leave an area near the town of Tolbert, in the northern province of Groningen, because of the risk that a dyke protecting about 200ha of mostly farmland might break and cause flooding.

But many of the residents stayed put to protect their cattle.

Reuters journalists, escorted by police inside the area, saw fields under water, but most houses appeared safe.

"They asked us to mobilise our families and leave the area. But we don't want to leave our cattle alone as we are farmers. We can't let our cows drown here if the area floods," said Fokke Dijkstra, 65, whose family has a farm with 350 cattle.

"We took measures to prevent our farm from flooding, by putting earth on the dyke to reinforce it."

Residents said the water level in the canals remained very high and at one stage had overflowed but the worst appeared to be over.

Authorities in the southern river city of Dordrecht, about 22km southeast of Rotterdam, were distributing sandbags in case the river floods lower parts of town, the Dordrecht city website said.

A mobile water defence system was set up in and around the northern city of Kampen to protect against the river IJssel flooding, Groot Salland water authority said.

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