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After The Deluge: Dutch Return Home As Dikes Are Declared Safe Evacuation Was Largest In Country’s History

Flood evacuees poured back into their precarious home region Sunday, grateful their centuries-old dams held and relieved to see their houses above water.

The largest evacuation in Dutch history ended when authorities determined centuries-old dikes would hold, allowing 250,000 people to head home.

Flooding on the Netherlands’ major rivers during the past two weeks forced residents to seek higher ground. About 70,000 had returned to their houses in previous days, and authorities gave the remainder the green light Sunday.

Returning refugees clogged roads in the lowlying region. Many pulled their most treasured belongings in trailers. Some recovered truckloads of possessions they had parked on bridges to keep dry. One bridge was lined with new cars parked there by an auto dealer.

“You just feel powerless and scared of the water,” said Klaas van Dee, who owns a woodcutting business in the village of Echteld, near Tiel. “It was really frightening.

“When we got back and saw a sign saying `Welcome Back To Echteld,’ tears were streaming down my face.”

Heavy rains and melting snow caused flooding in Germany, France and Belgium. The runoff coursed through Dutch rivers, causing some to overflow their banks.

The southern Dutch province of Limburg was hit hard when the overflowing Maas River inundated homes and businesses.

Thousands of buildings along the river were flooded with up to 3 feet of water.

Rampaging currents from the Maas and Waal rivers had threatened to wash away the hundreds of miles of dikes protecting communities in regions that lie below sea level.

But none of the dikes gave way, and permission to return came late Sunday for people from the last two villages still closed off to return beginning today.