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Relief for flooded areas as rains ease

Driftwood has caused a major headache in the clear-up operations

(Keystone)

Overnight rainfall in Switzerland was not as severe as had been feared and the situation in areas worst affected by heavy flooding is improving.

However, the authorities still faced an immense task on Friday to clear driftwood blocking the flow of rivers, while many people were still not able to return their homes.

A cold weather front that crossed Switzerland on Thursday brought further rain to many parts of the country.

Between 3.0 and 7.5 litres per square metre fell, according to the MeteoSwiss weather organisation. Up to 15 litres per square metre had been expected north of the Alps.

The situation in areas that have been under water since Monday after torrential rain at the weekend was reported to be under control.

Landslide risk

But about 400 people had to leave their homes on Thursday evening in the Bernese Oberland resort of Brienz and the neighbouring village of Schwanden because of the risk of landslides.

The authorities are due to decide on Friday morning whether some of them can return to their homes later in the day.

Dozens of houses are still without electricity, especially in and around the town of Thun at the gateway to the Bernese Oberland.

Floating wood, which has been blocking the flow of water, continues to be a problem in the region, as elsewhere.

Work is continuing to remove piles of driftwood from the River Aare, which flows through Lake Thun. A helicopter is assisting in the operation.

But once the wood has been cleared, there is a risk that water will rise again downstream in the Matte district of the capital Bern, which has been hit heavily by flooding.

Gotthard line

In central Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Railways managed to run the first train for several days along the north-south Gotthard line on Friday morning.

Regional trains will be running once an hour between the northern city of Basel and canton Ticino in the south.

In canton Nidwalden, a large quantity of heating oil spilled from two tanks into village streets and Lake Lucerne, but the authorities said it was "tolerable".

Transport and communications minister Moritz Leuenberger is due to pay a visit to the area on Friday afternoon.

Polluted water

In the town of Sarnen in the neighbouring canton of Obwalden, residents are still having to boil polluted drinking water. Several districts of the canton's capital are still without electricity.

The tourist resort of Engelberg, from where 1,200 to 1,500 tourists have been evacuated by helicopter, should be linked to the outside world again from the middle of next week following the construction of a makeshift road.

In the meantime, Super Puma army helicopters are to ferry more tourists out and provide transport for residents from the aerodrome of Buochs in canton Nidwalden.

The helicopters will also bring in fresh people to help with the clearing-up operations.

Elsewhere, the Vereina rail tunnel opened on Thursday evening, making transport to the Lower Engadine valley more easily accessible.

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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