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High Water In Northern Netherlands Sparks Evacuations

January 5, 2012

By Mike Corder, The Associated Press

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Farmers were told Thursday to evacuate a village in the Netherlands` low-lying north after days of driving rain and strong winds sparked fears of a dike breach.

Authorities also cordoned off river banks in some areas of the densely populated south, distributing sandbags in flood-prone regions as the Netherlands resumed its never-ending battle to stay dry.

A quarter of the country of nearly 17 million people lies below sea level and 55 percent is considered vulnerable to flooding, according to the nation`s Environmental Assessment Agency.

Inspectors also patrolled dikes along the Oosterschelde estuary in the south Thursday as powerful wind gusts battered the North Sea coast, national water authority Rijkswaterstaat said in a statement.

Some 85 people in the village of Tolbert 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the capital, Amsterdam were asked to leave their farms voluntarily as a storm lashed the region, though many chose to remain until they could move their livestock out of the threatened area.

A month`s worth of rain has soaked the northern Netherlands in recent days, and a northwesterly wind is hampering efforts to pump the water out of polders - reclaimed land that is drained by pumps and mills.

The polder being evacuated is one meter (yard) below sea level, according to a map provided by the Noorderzijlvest water authority that monitors the region.

Local mayor Ben Plandsoen told national broadcaster NOS that the polder would likely be submerged under some 40 centimeters (16 inches) of water if the dike protecting it breaks.

"You just don`t know how the dike will hold up," he said. "It is saturated, so you don`t know how much pressure it can take."

Water authorities further north said early Thursday that the situation there was under control after they pumped millions of gallons of water into the sea, lowering water levels in drainage canals that crisscross the country.

They also deliberately flooded uninhabited nature reserves to lower water levels elsewhere in populated parts of the region.

The Groninger Museum in the city of Groningen was closely monitoring water levels in the moat that surrounds the building.

The museum said in a statement that some of its exhibition halls were threatened, and it was in close contact with water authorities about whether it needs to close and shift some exhibits, including a recently opened show of clothes by Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaia.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Story Image: Police and military personnel are laying sandbags to strengthen the dike in Woltersum, 125 miles north of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. AP Photo

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