* Severe flooding in portions of Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands is causing chaos before Christmas, bringing shipping on the Rhine River to a halt and displacing thousands of people.

Authorities are reporting at least six flood-related deaths. High waters also swamped cities along the Rhine and the Danube, including Cologne, Germany's fourth-largest city, and Regensburg, in central Bavaria. Several feet of water covered Saarbrucken, on the border with France, as well.

Rivers started to overflow after three days of heavy rain. More light rain, mixed with snow, was in the forecast, meaning shipping might not resume on the Rhine until after the weekend, river traffic officials say.

The flooding, the worst since 1947, meant many merchants stand to lose millions of dollars in lost pre-Christmas sales. Thousands of homeowners will also be faced with the unsavory task of cleaning up after the waters recede.

In Bonn, Germany's capital, the Rhine's raging, muddy-brown waters seeped into the Parliament's parking garage, threatening air conditioning and electrical systems in the new Parliament building and forcing legislators to leave early for their holiday recess.

``The Rhine seems to flood every couple of years or so, but this is the worst I've ever seen it,'' said one diplomat, a long-time Bonn resident.

US and French troops still stationed in Germany participated in flood control and evacuation efforts in communities along Rhine tributaries.

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