January 6, 2012 / 1:30 PM / 8 years ago

Dutch evacuate 800 people at risk from leaking dyke

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch soldiers and police started to evacuate 800 residents Friday from a northern area of the Netherlands where an inland dyke has started leaking and is at risk of breaking after heavy rains.

The emergency evacuation began in the early hours of Friday in four villages in the province of Groningen after days of rain, following calls Thursday for 100 residents to leave their homes and farms in the same northern province.

By midday the majority of the residents had been evacuated, a spokesman of Groningen Safety Region told Reuters.

“We strongly advise them to evacuate, but we do not yet force them to do so. But this could change if the situation deteriorates,” the spokesman said.

Local authorities said teams were also preparing to move thousands of cattle left on farms.

Residents and the military packed sandbags along a 400 meter section of the dyke to help plug the leaks, and roads into the area were blocked. The military also assigned an F16 jet to monitor the strength of the dyke with an infrared camera.

The risk the dyke breaking is not very high, but the consequences would be enormous.

“Hundreds of acres of land would flood in a matter of hours, while the water level in the area would rise to at least 1.50 meters. This is why we started the evacuation,” Yvonne van Mastrigt, a local official, told a news conference.

In the province of Friesland, which neighbors Groningen in the east, the situation was “alarming but stable,” the water authority Wetterskip Fryslan said on its website.

Water levels were slowly dropping but remained high, and the water authority had sent out inspectors to assess the situation at quays and water ways, it said.

Parts of the historical city center of Dordrecht in the southwest were flooded in the night from Thursday to Friday, but risks eased Friday morning as the water slowly retreated.

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.

Reporting By Roberta B. Cowan and Tjibbe Hoekstra, editing by Rosalind Russell

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