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Germany

Germany Sighs Relief As Waters Recede

Though flood warnings persisted in parts of Germany, larger cities including Cologne appeared on Sunday to be spared of massive flooding that appeared inevitable only two days ago.

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A steel barrier spares Cologne's historic center as the swollen Rhine River comes within centimeters of flooding the city.

Floodwaters in central and eastern Germany receded somewhat overnight on Sunday, but many areas remain under threat. At least three people have been killed by the flooding, and a 71-year-old man and six-year-old boy are reported missing.

While Cologne's old city center has been spared, other towns and villages are still preparing for the worst. Flooding is particularly severe along the Main River.

Evacuations in preparation for worst

Hochwasser Soldaten Sandsäcke Leubingen

Sandbaggers in Leubingen

In Leubingen (photo), a village in the eastern state of Thuringia, hundreds of police, firefighters and rescue workers reinforced dykes along the Unstrut River with sandbags. At one point, despite all efforts, the water broke through, but workers were eventually able to close the breach. Most of Leubingen's 1,000 residents have been evacuated.

In Wertheim on the Main River in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, the old town is already covered in 2 meters (6.54 feet) of water, with flood waters expected to peak first on Monday. Freezing temperatures have reduced flood levels on the Main, but officials say that together, the Main and the Tauber Rivers, which converge in Wertheim, could rise to 7 meters on Monday.

"Get your last beer before the flood here!"

In Cologne, a flood warning has been lifted. For hours, the water level of the Rhine River has remained stable, at 9.64 meters, falling just below the critical 10 meter mark. On Friday, the city erected portable steel barriers along the riverfront that have kept the historic downtown area near the cathedral from flooding. Residents of the city have taken the harrowing events of recent days with a healthy dose of humor. Cafes and restaurants lining the river have opened their beer gardens. One even unfurled a sign that read: "Get your last beer before the flood here!"

"People in Cologne take flooding with humor," the city's mayor, Fritz Schramma, told the news agency dpa. "As we rode through flooded parts of the city (in the Rodenkirchen district) in a boat, one man called out to us, 'Can you give me a lift to Aldi?'" The latter being a reference to Germany's wildly popular discount supermarket. In 1996, the worst flooding in a century covered much of the city's historic center.

In Bavaria, emergency aid workers erected dykes in order to keep flood waters on the Main River from flooding the populous city of Würzburg. A city spokesman said he expected the measures to be sufficient to keep the water out of the historic city.

Meanwhile, the German environmental organization WWF criticized the German government for its handling of flood policies and called for a dramatic shift in thinking. For 150 years, the Frankfurt-based organization declared, flood policies have been a failure, with the continued obstruction of stream passages, the straightening of river ways and mass construction in flood zones.

High waters, snow storms batter Europe

Germany's neighbors are also battling with bad weather and flooding. While floods in Britain and western Europe are subsiding, river levels are continuing to rise in the Czech Republic.

In the Czech city Usti nad Labem the level of the Elbe River rose above the seven-meter mark. Authorities estimate the waters will peak at 7.5 meters on Sunday. Downstream in the German city of Dresden, still devastated by last summer's flooding, officials breathed a sigh of relief, announcing they expected the Elbe River to be at least 11 centimeters below the critical 7 meter level when the highest wave of flooding washes through on Monday.

Hochwasser in Dresden mit Zwinger im Hintergrund

Although the Czech Republic and eastern Germany were inundated last summer (photo), water levels on the Elbe aren't as high this time, and there is less danger of massive flooding.

Meanwhile, northeastern France was hit by sudden snowfall and a sharp drop in temperatures on Saturday night, causing havoc for thousands of motorists. Flights were cancelled at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.

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