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Experience Pays Off For Flooded Europe

LARGE-SCALE evacuations left dozens of towns in eastern Netherlands virtually deserted yesterday as dikes strained to keep floods at bay.

Waters began to recede elsewhere across northwest Europe, hit by the second severe flood in 13 months, and people began thinking about the cleanup.

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It's the worst flood in 40 years in the Netherlands. This year's floods across northwest Europe - including France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands - claimed at least 26 lives. Property damage estimates could climb into the billions of dollars.

Authorities are working furiously to reinforce dikes weakened by flooding in the Netherlands. If the earthen ramparts burst, many towns could be under about 16 feet of water. About 250,000 Dutch have moved to shelters.

For many German homeowners, the flooding is financially devastating. Flood insurance was either impossible to obtain or prohibitively expensive in much of the affected region, especially after flooding in December 1993. The German government has already announced it will offer about $20 million in low-interest loans to flood victims.

IN Beuel, across the Rhine River from Bonn, flood victims exhibited resilience, splashing around in boots and hip waders.

The 1993 flood that inundated much of the same areas of Beuel ``came as a surprise for us all, residents and authorities,'' says Angela Steinstraesser, a volunteer who ferries victims to and from their homes in a small boat. ``This year we were better prepared.... The mood is good.''

Gunnar Grecksch, who says he had moved to Beuel after the '93 flood, was caught off-guard when the Rhine broke over its banks this year. But he says he has no plans to move.

``When the floods came I had no boots or anything. But I noticed all my neighbors simply got their boots and hip waders ... and were ready,'' he says. ``When the next flood comes, I'll be able to do the same.''

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