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Matte residents get that sinking feeling

Water has reached the first floor of houses in the Matte district

(swissinfo.ch)

Severe flooding is currently affecting large parts of Switzerland. The Matte district in Bern has been particularly badly hit.

The River Aare is now flowing through the alleys of this old part of the city and the water has reached the first floor of many houses.

Japanese tourists jostle with Bernese schoolchildren and other curious onlookers on the Kirchenfeld bridge to catch a glimpse of the flooded Matte, usually buzzing with small trade activity.

Today the muddy waters of the River Aare dominate the scene, flowing through the streets and alleys and reaching a height of two metres.

Car roofs protrude from the water and a police boat battles against the current, evacuating those who have stayed in their apartments.

"We don't know exactly how many people are still holding out in the Matte area," Franz Märki, spokesman for Bern police, told swissinfo.

By Monday evening some 240 people had been taken away from the waterlogged area.

Not life-threatening

Franca Gianella, who lives on the flooded Mühlenplatz, says she is the only one in her building, which is flooded up to the first floor, to have been evacuated so far.

In fact Gianella lives on the top floor and the situation was not life-threatening for her. "But it's not very pleasant now that the power has been cut off and that everything is pitch-black at night," Gianella explains, after getting out of the rescue boat with her three dogs and two bags.

When she will be able to return to her apartment "God only knows", she laughs. "My fear is that the Aare will eventually get into the house."

The flooding of 1999 was nothing compared with this, Gianella continued. "In 1999 we only had ground water and the Aare didn't burst its banks." Also the water at that time came very slowly compared with this.

Lessons not learnt

Matte residents complain that since the "flood of the century" in 1999, the authorities have taken little or no flood-prevention measures.

They say the city should have ensured that floating bits of wood could not block up the weir as they did. Furthermore the riverbed has not been dredged, as promised in 1999.

Franca Gianella goes on: "What's really annoyed us this time is the false information that was given out on the radio. When the water was coming up to the first floor, the media were still talking about knee-high water."

She said the situation was played down for most of the day until one of the residents contacted the radio directly. "The evacuation went very well though," she said. "The firemen were extremely friendly and helpful."

No predictions

As for how long the water in the Matte will remain high and when the debris and damage will be cleared, neither Märki nor Gianella dared say.

Babette, Maxine and the other children from the Matte who couldn't go to school on Monday don't know either how long their school will be closed. They will probably be accommodated in another school for some time.

So until normal life resumes in the Matte, large amounts of water will just continue to flow down the River Aare.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel in the Matte

In brief

The flooding in Bern is under control according to the city authorities. However the all-clear has not yet been given.

A military detachment of 150 men has been assisting the rescue services since Tuesday morning.

Three boats are being used for the evacuation.

At 6am on Tuesday the water speed reached a high of 603 cubic metres per second.

The extent of damage to property cannot yet be assessed.

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