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Clear-up operations begin in flooded areas

Efforts are underway in Bern's Matte district to clear the River Aare

(Keystone)

The situation in flooded parts of Switzerland is showing signs of easing. Water levels in lakes and rivers are falling but evacuations are continuing in some areas.

As the floodwaters receded on Thursday, and the clear-up operation got underway in earnest the extent of the damage became clearer.

Buildings are being inspected for damage and repairs are taking place as the total cost of the severe weather is estimated at up to SFr2 billion ($1.6 billion).

Six people are reported dead or missing.

While many broken transport links have been restored, some villages are still cut off and others in canton Bern and central Switzerland remain under water. Many homes are without electricity.

Piles of driftwood are continuing to clog up rivers and streams preventing the flow of water.

In eastern Switzerland the situation is normalising, and fears over contaminated drinking water are receding.

Swiss Federal Railways reported that the main north-south axis, which had been cut by the flooding, would be fully reopened on Friday morning, permitting passenger train travel between Basel and Ticino.

And the airport in Bern announced that scheduled and charter flights had resumed on Thursday afternoon.

While the level of the River Aare fell, the situation in the Matte district of the capital, Bern, remained precarious and the last residents were evacuated from their homes. In total more than 300 people have been moved from the district owing to fears that buildings could collapse.

In Lucerne the situation was improving after the water level of Lake Lucerne fell, but parts of the city were still under water.

Positive assessment

Meanwhile the military drew a positive balance from its involvement in the rescue operation, which began four days ago, describing it as "fast and professional".

Army chief Christoph Keckeis told a news conference 1,000 soldiers had been drafted in to help in the relief effort, backed up by 11 helicopters. The new army concept had proved itself, he said.

The army said it would provide emergency assistance until next Tuesday, when it would switch to providing back-up to the cantonal authorities.

The Swiss civil protection service announced on Thursday it had set up a coordination centre to deal with requests for assistance from the cantons.

It follows public criticism that inter-cantonal cooperation was lacking. In one case, a fire department commander in canton Fribourg complained that his counterpart in Interlaken had failed to ask for help from outside canton Bern, even though Interlaken was short on manpower and pumps.

Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, says SFr500,000 has been raised so far for flood victims in the country. Next Wednesday has been declared a national day for fundraising for those worst hit by the disaster.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The charity Swiss Solidarity is holding a national fundraising day on August 31 for victims of the flooding.

Donations can be pledged by telephone between 6am and 12pm.

By Thursday afternoon the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation - swissinfo's parent company - had raised around half a million francs.

Donations can also be made through post office account 10-15000-6.

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