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Floods start to recede but problems remain

A Brienz resident surveys the devastation caused by mudslides

(Keystone)

The flood situation appeared to be stabilising in Switzerland over the weekend as people started to return to their homes and roads were reopened.

But some alpine areas remain cut off and massive clean-up operations continue as the country deals with the devastating impact of the flooding.

In the capital, Bern, residents of the low-lying Matte district were being allowed back into their homes.

They were forcibly evacuated earlier in the week over fears that some of the district's historic buildings could collapse. Water and electricity supplies have not yet been restored.

"The flood risk has receded, but there is an awful lot of clearing up to do," Bern police spokesman Franz Märki told Reuters.

More than 1,000 people in the surrounding areas in canton Bern have also started to return to their houses.

Receded

The authorities reported that water levels had receded at the lakes in Thun, Sarnen and Lucerne. However several areas in the central canton of Obwalden are still underwater.

The canton's tourist resort of Engelberg remains cut off and is still only reachable by helicopter. Evacuations are continuing.

As in many other flooded regions, Obwalden police called on people to refrain from visiting flooded areas as "catastrophe tourists".

The Gotthard road, the main north-south axis through the Swiss Alps, reopened on Saturday after being closed for five days. It was reported that the train service through the tunnel was running an intermittent service.

Rain fears

More rain has been forecast for the country, but without the intensity of the downpours earlier this week. Meteorologists said it would mainly fall on the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which has mostly been spared from the earlier rainfall.

However, some remain nervous about the prospects of more rain. Authorities in the alpine village of Brienz said they would be on the alert.

"There is a risk that once we see new rainfall, the mountains will push more earth and rock masses down on the valley which could destroy our newly erected barriers," Peter Flück, the head of the village's authorities, told the AP news agency.

Last week a woman and her daughter were killed in Brienz after their house was swept away by water and mud.

The overall total death toll from the flooding in Switzerland now stands at six.

Costs and donations

Insurers say flood-damage costs could rise to more than SFr1 billion ($794 million). Agricultural damage could be as much as SFr10 million.

Meanwhile Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), said on Saturday that it had raised around SFr2million. On Thursday evening the total stood at SFr500,000.

An SBC spokesman said that the Swiss president, Samuel Schmid, had collected more than SFr25,000 from a recent conference of Swiss ambassadors.

A donation of SFr65,000 had also been made by the United States ambassador to Bern, Pamela Willeford, said the SBC.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

By Saturday the charity Swiss Solidarity had raised around SFr2 million for the victims of the flooding.
The fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation - swissinfo's parent company - is holding a national fundraising day on August 31 for those worst affected by the flooding.
Donations can be pledged by telephone between 6am and 12pm.
Donations can also be made through post office account 10-15000-6.

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