Emergency workers in western Germany and Belgium rushed to rescue hundreds of people in danger or who have not yet been identified, as the number of deaths from devastating floods reached more than 125 people on Friday. .
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 63 people had died there, including 12 residents of a disabled living center in the city of Sinzig, who were shocked by a sudden rain of water from the nearby river Ahr.
In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia, state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned the figure could rise.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation caused by the floods and promised support to the families of the dead, as well as to cities and towns suffering major damage.
“At a time of need, our country remains united,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “It’s important that we stand in solidarity for those who have been taken by the flood.”
A fierce rescue effort took place in the German city of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where people were trapped when the ground gave way and their houses collapsed.
“We got 50 people out of their homes last night,” County Administrator Frank Rock told German n-tv.
Aerial photographs showed what appeared to be a huge landslide on gravel on the outskirts of the city.
“It has to be assumed that under these circumstances, some people failed to escape,” Rock said.
Authorities were trying to account for hundreds of people missing, but warned that the high number could result from duplication of reports and difficulties in reaching people due to road disruptions and telephone service.
Dams at risk of collapse in the Netherlands
After Germany, where the death toll was 106, Belgium was hardest hit by the floods that caused houses to be torn down. Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network that the country confirmed the deaths of 20 people, with 20 people still missing.
Water levels in the Meuse River flowing from Belgium to the Netherlands remain critical and several dams were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said.
Authorities in the southern Dutch city of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the flood threat from the river.
This week’s flash floods followed days of heavy rainfall in Western Europe. Thousands of people were left homeless in Germany after their homes were destroyed or considered endangered by authorities.
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, who hopes to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after the German elections on September 26, said the disaster caused immense economic damage to the most densely populated state. of the country.
“The floods have literally taken the ground out from under the feet of many people,” Governor Armin Laschet said at a news conference. “They lost their homes, farms or businesses.”
Federal and state officials have promised financial aid to the affected areas, which also include the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where at least 60 people were killed and entire villages were destroyed.
“Climate change is no longer abstract”
Malu Dreyer, the governor of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, said the disaster showed the need to step up efforts to curb global warming.
He accused the center-right union bloc of Laschet and Merkel of having thwarted efforts to achieve further reductions in greenhouse gases in Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. global warming.
“Climate change is no longer abstract. We are living it up close and painfully, ”he told Funke media group.
Steinmeier, the German president, echoed her calls for a greater effort to combat global warming.
“Only if we decide to fight climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are experiencing now,” he said.
Experts say these disasters could become more common in the future.
“Some parts of Western Europe … received up to two months of rain within two days. What got worse was that the soils were already saturated with previous rainfall,” the spokeswoman said. World Meteorological Organization, Clare Nullis.
Although he said it was too early to blame the floods and heat waves ahead of rising global temperatures, Nullis added: “Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And it has been shown that many individual events are made worse by global warming. ”
‘Military disaster alarm’
Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said the German army had deployed more than 850 troops to help with the floods, but the number “increases significantly as the need grows.” He said the ministry triggered a “military disaster alarm.”
Italy sent civil protection officials, firefighters and rescue boats to Belgium to help search for missing people.
In the province of Limburg in the south of the Netherlands, which was also affected by the floods, troops piled up sandbags to reinforce a 1.1 km stretch of dike along the Maas River, and police helped evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.
Provisional Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government had officially declared disaster areas in regions affected by the floods, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation. Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region on Thursday night and described the scenes as “heartbreaking”.
Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to burst its banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a rapid flood ravaged cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim and Beggingen on Thursday at the end.
Erik Schulz, mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, 50 km (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said there had been a wave of solidarity from other regions and ordinary citizens to help those affected by the floods.
“We have many, many citizens saying,‘ Can I offer a place to stay, where can I go to help, where can I register, where can I take the shovel and bucket? “He told n-tv.
“The city is together and that can be felt.”