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City news, 12.01.2005 15:42

Saint Petersburg Escapes Flooding Threat

St. Petersburg Escapes Flooding Threat Authorities in Russia's second city, Saint Petersburg, breathed a sigh of relief after high water levels that threatened the former imperial capital with flooding began to recede.

Alarm bells had rung Sunday as water levels in the river Neva rose to within 30 centimetres (12 inches) of the flooding mark of 2.60 metres, causing city officials to close off embankments to traffic and shut down six subway stations.

But by 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), the water level had dropped back down to 2.10 metres, the regional emergencies ministry told AFP.

"The water has started to recede. The threat of flooding now is minimal," ministry spokesman Yevgeny Drasdov said.

Russian television showed images of flooded embankments in the five-million-strong city, with water up to ankle-length, as police said they had closed off some of the main riverside roads to traffic.

Six out of 52 subway stations were temporarily closed, including the city centre's Nevsky Prospect station.

Two women were hospitalised after being rescued from their water-clogged car near a bridge, the Interfax news agency quoted a local emergency official as saying.

Saint Petersburg, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great on the banks of the Neva on marshland, has suffered frequent flooding, of which the worst was in 1724 when water levels rose to four metres.

The latest scare came as strong storms and heavy rains battered northern Europe, leaving at least 11 people dead, most of them in Sweden and Denmark.

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(c) 2000