September 19, 2021

Deadly weather hits Germany and Belgium hard

It is the worst natural disaster in Germany since the war. Many villages in the west of the country present a picture of desolation. In this vast area affected by flash floods caused by torrential rains, the number of victims increased, Friday, July 16, to at least 108 dead, according to local authorities.

‘I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,’ Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Thursday evening, visiting Washington.

The floods have also devastated a good part of Belgium since Wednesday and left at least 20 dead, while 20 people were missing, according to a provisional assessment provided Friday by the Minister of the Interior, Annelies Verlinden.

These are ‘the most catastrophic floods our country has ever experienced,’ Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a press conference on Friday afternoon. ‘The priority is to save the victims,’ he said, recalling that the ‘national phase’ was triggered Thursday afternoon and stressing that the final toll was not yet known. The Head of State also declared Tuesday, July 20, a day of national mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands, where several districts of Maastricht had to be evacuated, were also severely affected. All these countries deplore at this stage at least 126 deaths.

In Germany, the death toll is likely to rise due to the number of people still missing. One of the most affected regions, Rhineland-Palatinate, saw the number of deaths recorded on Friday morning from 28 to 60.

Near Cologne, many people were missing and ‘several dead’ counted after a landslide following the floods, according to a spokeswoman for the district. Images of the disaster area showed a large crater into which masses of earth, brown water and debris were pouring out.

Several hundred soldiers mobilized

In Rhineland-Palatinate alone, authorities said they still had no news of 1,300 people in the worst-hit canton, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, which could however be linked to telephone disruptions.

Concretely, ‘we are still counting on 40, 50 or 60 disappeared and when you have people who have not given any sign of life for so long (…) we must fear the worst’, declared his minister of ‘Interior Roger Lewentz.

It is also expected to continue to rain in parts of the west of the country. And the level of the Rhine and several of its tributaries is rising dangerously.

Nearly a thousand soldiers have been mobilized to help with relief and clearing operations in towns and villages, all of which offer the same spectacle: streets and houses under water, overturned cars, uprooted trees.

‘Billions of euros’ in damage –

‘This is a unique disaster of unprecedented magnitude,’ asserts Gerd Landsberg, director general of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. ‘Judging by the damage, billions of euros are at stake,’ he said.

These bad weather have placed the issue of global warming at the center of the electoral campaign, which is in full swing in Germany in view of the legislative elections of September 26 at the end of which Angela Merkel will leave power.

A warmer atmosphere retains more water and can cause extreme rainfall. These can have particularly devastating consequences in urban areas, with poorly drained waterways and buildings in flood-prone areas.

In the most affected countries, it fell in two days the equivalent of two months of precipitation, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

All the candidates compete in promises, two and a half months before the elections. The President of the Federal Republic, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, urged on Friday, in a solemn declaration, to fight ‘resolutely’ against global warming.

At least 20 dead in Belgium

The floods affecting Belgium, mainly the east and south of the country, killed at least 20 people, while 20 people were missing, according to the Minister of the Interior, Friday at midday.

Water was gradually withdrawing from the flooded areas on Friday and relief workers expected to find more victims. ‘We can expect unpleasant surprises,’ said Antoine Iseux, spokesperson for the crisis center in Belgium.

Wallonia, a French-speaking region in southern Belgium, is particularly affected and remained largely under ‘flood alert’, according to a map updated Friday morning by regional authorities.

Firefighters, security forces and the army took part in rescue and evacuation missions in the flooded areas. According to the Belga agency, Belgian Defense has hired a helicopter to help people stranded on a roof in Pepinster (province of Liège).

More than 21,000 people were deprived of electricity in the region, according to the manager of the electricity and gas distribution networks in Wallonia (Ores), reporting the flooding of 300 distribution cabins.

Running water was also deemed unsuitable for drinking because of the weather conditions in several municipalities in the province of Liège. According to the federal police, dozens of road sections remained closed to traffic, and a major part of rail traffic was interrupted in Wallonia. No Thalys TGV will run between Belgium and Germany on Friday.

In Liège, Belgium’s fourth most populous city, local authorities called on Thursday afternoon for thousands of residents of neighborhoods bordering the Meuse to leave their homes, in anticipation of a sharp rise in the level of the river.

The water level in the city center did not finally increase during the night and began to drop ‘very slowly’ in the most affected district, the Liège police said on Friday, while recalling that many surrounding roads remained closed.