Flooded rivers subsided Thursday but a new enemy gnawed at the weakened, ancient structures that keep much of this country dry: swift currents that threatened to gouge the dikes.
The latest problem is not high water, but the speed with which river levels are dropping in the southeastern Netherlands.
“It’s a real danger,” regional Dikemaster Jan Boer told reporters. “When the waters decline, when the pressure disappears, there’s a chance dikes will begin to float and shift. The whole dike can be torn open.”
Evacuated areas in the Gelderland and Limburg provinces remained offlimits to the public Thursday. Mayor Ed d’Hondt of Nijmegen, the largest city in the region, said the area’s 250,000 residents who fled would not be able to return to their homes until at least Saturday.
With tens of thousands of homes empty, police are increasingly concerned about looting. A few instances have already been reported.
The level of the Waal River continued to sink, but officials cautioned that the crisis was not over until 300 miles of dikes were out of danger.
The Dutch are bearing the brunt of last week’s storms and flooding across northwestern Europe that was caused by a combination of heavy Alpine snows, early melting and heavy rains. At least 29 people have died as a result.