More than 60 dead, at least 1300 missing as severe floods strike Europe
More than 60 people have died and hundreds are missing as severe flooding in Germany and Belgium turned streams and streets into raging torrents that swept away cars and caused houses to collapse.
Among the 67 confirmed dead Thursday (local time), nine were residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities and two firefighters involved in rescue efforts across the region, while more than 1300 people are unaccounted for, the Washington Post reported.
Valentin Bianchi/AP A man walks by damaged cars in a flooded street in Mery, Province of Liege, Belgium.
A code red was issued in parts of Belgium on Wednesday as severe rains hit the area.
Speaking alongside US President Joe Biden at the White House, Merkel said her thoughts were with all those who had lost loved ones or were still searching for them.
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“I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days,” she said.
Biden likewise paid his condolences for the devastating loss of life and the destruction due to the flooding.
“Our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones,” he said.
Authorities said at least 30 people died in North Rhine-Westphalia state and 28 in neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate to the south. Belgian media reported eight deaths in that country.
Harald Tittel/AP People look at the destruction caused by the flooding of the Ahr River in the Eifel village of Schuld, western Germany.
Recent storms across parts of western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods overnight after the saturated soil couldn’t absorb any more water.
Among the worst-hit German villages was Schuld, where several homes collapsed and hundreds of people remained unaccounted for.
Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads and phone and internet outages across the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys.
Some villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn’t withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the small Ahr River surge in such a deadly torrent. “This night, it was like madness,” he said.
Dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses with inflatable boats and helicopters. Hundreds of soldiers were deployed to assist in the rescue efforts.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
The 52nd Civil Engineer squadron and several volunteers from the US air base at Spangdahlem filled and distributed hundreds of sandbags to help protect homes and businesses in the area, the US European Command said.
A damaged house is seen at the Ahr river in Insul, western Germany.
In Belgium, the Vesdre River spilled over its banks and sent water churning through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a rescue operation by firefighters went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared.
“Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed,” said Mayor Philippe Godin. “I fear they are dead.”
In Verviers, the prosecutor’s office said several bodies had been found but could not confirm local media reports that four people were killed there.
Major highways were inundated in southern and eastern parts of the country, and the railway said all trains were halted.
Martin Meissner/AP People clean up a street with damaged cars and houses in Hagen, Germany.
In Liege, a city of 200,000, the Meuse River overflowed its banks Thursday and the mayor asked people living nearby to move to higher ground.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help, and Pope Francis sent condolences, with his office saying the pontiff was praying for those injured and missing, as well as those who have lost their livelihoods.
The full extent of the damage was still unclear, with many villages cut off by floods and landslides that made roads impassable. Videos on social media showed cars floating down streets and houses partially collapsed.
Many of the dead were only discovered after floodwaters receded.
Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbach reservoir amid fears a dam could break.
Harald Tittel/AP Houses are submerged on the overflowed river banks in Erdorf, Germany, as the village was flooded Thursday, July 15, 2021.
Two firefighters died in rescue operations in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. Governor Armin Laschet paid tribute to them and pledged swift help.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we won’t leave the communities, the people affected alone,” he said during a visit to the city of the flood-hit city of Hagen.
Laschet, a conservative who is running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in this autumn’s (NZ’s spring) election, said the unusually heavy storms and an earlier heat wave could be linked to climate change.
Political opponents have criticised Laschet, the son of a miner, for supporting the region’s coal industry and hampering the expansion of wind power during his tenure.
Roberto Pfeil/AP A car that is covered in Hagen, Germany, with the debris brought by the flooding of the ‘Nahma’ river the night before.
Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said it was unclear whether the extreme rainfall seen in Germany was a direct result of planetary warming.
“But one can state that such events are becoming more frequent due to global warming,” he told The Associated Press, noting that warmer air can absorb more water vapour that eventually falls as rain.
“The increase in heavy rain and decrease in days with weak rain is now also clearly seen in observational data, especially in the mid-northern latitudes, which includes Germany,” Rahmstorf said.
Harald Tittel/AP A firefighter wades through a street in Kordel, Germany, which was flooded by the Kyll river, early Thursday, July 15, 2021.
The weakening of the summer circulation of the atmosphere, causing longer-lasting weather patterns such as heat waves or continuous rain, might also play a role, he added.
Rainfall eased later Thursday across Germany, although water levels on the Mosel and Rhine rivers were expected to continue rising.
In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima visited the hard-hit Dutch town of Valkenburg on Thursday evening to support residents and emergency services.
Flooding turned the main street into a torrent of brown water, inundating homes and businesses.
The Dutch government sent about 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg late Wednesday to help with evacuations and filling sandbags.
Martin Meissner/AP A German army tank pulls a truck from the mud in Hagen, Germany.
Thousands of people in neighbourhoods of the city of Maastricht and other villages along the Maas River were ordered to evacuate Thursday evening amid threats of flooding, and centres were set up to house them. The Maas is the Dutch name for the Meuse River.
In northeastern France, heavy rains flooded vegetable fields, many homes and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
Firefighters evacuated people from campgrounds around the town of Fresnes-en-Woevre, according to local firefighters. Bastille Day fireworks were cancelled in some small towns. The Aire River rose to its highest levels in 30 years in some areas, according to the L’Est Republicain newspaper.
The equivalent of two months of rain has fallen over two days, according to the French national weather service, with flood warnings issued for 10 regions.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, but forecasters warned of mudslides and more rain Friday.
Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels; Angela Charlton in Paris; France; Emilio in Rome; and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.
- ^ severe flooding in Germany and Belgium turned streams and streets into raging torrents (www.stuff.co.nz)
- ^ during a visit to Washington (apnews.com)
- ^ ‘Wobble’ in Moon’s orbit may result in record flooding on Earth (www.stuff.co.nz)
- ^ Kea Kids News: Flooded kura moves 300km away to another school (www.stuff.co.nz)
- ^ Environment destroyed in favour of European economy, says iwi (www.stuff.co.nz)
- ^ Kiwis overestimating sea-level rise rate may hinder climate action (www.stuff.co.nz)
- ^ the unusually heavy storms and an earlier heat wave could be linked to climate change (www.stuff.co.nz)
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