Europe flood fears recede but warnings in place

The threat of serious flooding along England’s east coast receded on Friday after officials said the main tidal peak had passed, although storms were still causing problems elsewhere in Europe.

Hundreds of people who were evacuated from their homes were allowed to return. A spokesperson for Britain’s Environment Agency said: ”The risk of flooding has diminished and the outlook is for tide levels to fall.”

High seas still threatened The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Norway and Sweden, and the giant surge barrier in the Dutch port of Rotterdam was closed for the first time since its construction in the 1990s.

Seawall surveillance operations were in force in the north of The Netherlands — one-third of which is below sea-level — although they had been stood down in other parts.

In neighbouring Belgium, 10 boats trying to enter or leave the port of Antwerp could not do so due to high seas whipped up by strong winds on the North Sea.

In Norway, oil production was starting to return to normal after the storms forced the closure of a string of platforms, although BP’s Valhall installation remained shut.

United States firm ConocoPhillips said it was to carry out inspections on seven platforms in the Ekofisk oilfield that were closed, but a spokesperson could not say when production would restart.

In Germany, winds gusted at speeds of up to 130km/h along the North Sea coast between Bremen and the Danish border, while forecasters issued a severe weather warning.

Local officials said that the River Elbe in Hamburg posed a flood risk, while some ferry services in the north were disrupted.

Flood warnings were also issued in Sweden, particularly along the southern and western coasts.

Britain’s Environment Agency had warned of ”extreme danger to life and property” along eastern coastal areas and issued eight severe flood warnings.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired a dawn meeting of emergency planning committee Cobra, the second in 12 hours, while the Thames Barrier, which controls water levels on the river running through London, was closed.

”The national government stands ready to help the local communities,” Brown said after the meeting. ”We will be able to assess what is happening over the course of the next few hours.”

The level of the surge in Britain was expected to be about 2,7m with a peak at about 8am GMT, but in practice there was only localised flooding on the east coast.

Forecasters the Met Office say they expected winds to drop on Friday.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn defended the government’s high-alert reaction to the floods, saying it was right to prepare for the worst.

”You only have to think about what people would say if we hadn’t taken all the precautions that we have and, in fact, if the storm surge overtopped the defences,” he told Sky News television. ”We may still see that and there probably will be some flooding. We don’t yet know what the extent of it will be, but this is the right thing to do.” — AFP



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