NewsDeath toll from Germany, Belgium floods cross 150

Death toll from Germany, Belgium floods cross 150

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Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany: The death toll from the devastating floods in western Germany and Belgium has increased to more than 150, according to local officials, as rescuers continue their hunt for hundreds of others still missing.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president, said he was “stunned” by the flooding’s destruction and vowed support to the relatives of those deceased as well as cities and towns that had suffered major damage.

“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said on Friday afternoon. “It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”

Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said on Saturday morning that 93 people had died there, including at least 12 residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities, while neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia put the death toll at 43.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.

Officials warned the figures could rise further. About 1,300 people in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate remain unaccounted for, although efforts to contact them were being hindered by damage to phone networks.

Catching residents of several regions unaware and leaving destruction and despair in their wake, the masses of water were dubbed the “flood of death” by top-selling daily Bild.

Neighbouring Belgium counted at least nine dead, while Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also severely affected by the torrents of water, with thousands evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

But Germany’s toll was by far the highest, and likely to rise with large numbers of people still missing in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, the hardest-hit states.

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Image courtesy of Asianet Newsable via Twitter

Regional interior minister Roger Lewentz told broadcaster SWR that “we believe there are still 40, 50 or 60 people missing, and when you haven’t heard for people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst.”

“The number of victims will likely keep rising in the coming days,” he added.

‘Disaster’

What’s more, continuing rain is forecast for parts of the west, where water levels in the Rhine River and its tributaries are rising dangerously.

Around 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to help with rescue operations and rubble-clearing in affected towns and villages.

Streets and houses underwater overturned cars and uprooted trees could be seen everywhere the floodwaters had passed, while some districts were cut off from the outside world.

In Ahrweiler several houses collapsed completely, leaving the impression the town had been struck by a tsunami.

At least 20 people had been confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-hit towns just to the north.

Its normally spick and span center had been turned into a heap of rubble, with house facades were torn off by the rushing floods.

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Before and after images showing the terrible disaster that stuck in Belgium and Germany and many parts of Europe. Image courtesy of VladaOfEngland via Twitter

Adding to the town’s woes, a nearby dam remains at risk of giving way.

“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing,” Merkel told reporters in Washington.

She said her government would not leave those affected “alone with their suffering,” adding that it was doing its “utmost to help them in their distress”.

Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP, recalling the floodwater crashing through her street during the night.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down, we thought it would break the door down.”

Four people are still missing in Belgium and the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.

With homes underwater since Wednesday, people from resort town Spa were being put up in tents.

The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, said Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.

The Belgian interior minister, Annelies Verlinden, said the country’s death toll had risen to 20, with another 20 still missing.

Most of the dead were found around Liège, a city of 200,000 people, despite an order for residents of central districts and areas bordering the Meuse River to evacuate.

Verlinden said water levels on the Meuse running into the Netherlands remained critical. “There are a number of dikes on the Meuse where it is really touching and go whether they will collapse,” she said.

The army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue operations and evacuations, along with teams of emergency workers dispatched from Italy and France.

Residents of some towns, including the resort of Spa, which has been underwater since late on Wednesday, were being accommodated in tents.

While they have so far suffered no loss of life, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were also severely affected, with flash floods sweeping through the Swiss villages of Schleitheim and Beggingen, several towns in the Grand Duchy evacuated on Thursday, and thousands told to leave their homes in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht.

The water level in the Maas, as the Meuse is known in Dutch, reached its maximum forecast height in Maastricht on Thursday night but stayed below what authorities had termed the “doom scenario”, averting widespread flooding.

Climate change?

The storms have put climate change back at the center of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 parliamentary poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Germany “must prepare much better” in the future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.

Political candidates were quick to open a bidding war on climate following the floods.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

Avoidable?

Experts said the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) issued an extreme flood warning earlier this week and questioned why the toll was so high. Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist, told Politico the disaster was “a monumental failure of the system”.

The German weather service DWD said it had passed on the warning to local authorities, who should have been responsible for organizing any necessary evacuations.

The interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said Germany “must prepare much better” in the future, adding that “this is a consequence of climate change”.

Steinmeier called for greater efforts to combat global warming. “Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,” he said.

Experts said such disasters were likely to happen more often due to climate change. “Some parts of western Europe … received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days,” World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis said.

While she said it was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heatwaves on global heating, Nullis said the climate crisis was “increasing the frequency of extreme events while many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.”

The Belgian interior minister, Annelies Verlinden, said the country’s death toll had risen to 20, with another 20 still missing.

Most of the dead were found around Liège, a city of 200,000 people, despite an order for residents of central districts and areas bordering the Meuse River to evacuate.

Verlinden said water levels on the Meuse running into the Netherlands remained critical. “There are a number of dikes on the Meuse where it is really touching and go whether they will collapse,” she said.

Regional authorities said several people had died or been reported missing after their houses collapsed when the ground beneath them sank suddenly in a major landslide. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.

“We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,” Frank Rock, a local official, said. “We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued … One has to assume that, under the circumstances, some people didn’t manage to escape.”

This story has been thoroughly updated and wrapped. The Guardian contributed to this report under the Covering Climate Now partnership.

Debayan Paul
Debayan is a freelance digital reporter and Editor-in-chief of We The World Magazine. Contact: communications@wetheworldmagazine.com

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