Northern Europe hit by catastrophic floods

(CN) – Northern Europe was reeling from catastrophic flooding on Friday after rain-swelling rivers overflowed and passed through villages, towns and villages in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and in the Netherlands, killing more than 120 people with hundreds more still missing.

Hurricane-like downpours from a slow storm system on Wednesday and Thursday filled rivers beyond their capacity, releasing floodwaters that turned the streets of cities in Germany and Belgium into raging rivers which took away houses, cars, bridges, roads and people.

More than 100 people have been killed in Germany, making it the country’s worst natural disaster since a deadly North Sea flood in 1962 killed 340 people. Belgian authorities have reported around 20 deaths.

Large-scale evacuations were ordered in parts of Germany and Belgium on Friday as rivers, including the Rhine, continued to rise, endangering dams, dikes and other flood control structures. Over 100,000 Germans were without electricity.

Images of the disaster area showed deep images and rapid flood waters sweeping cities and scouring roads, bridges and stone buildings. Bild, a German news magazine, showed photographs from Schuld, a village along the Ahr River, where several wooden houses collapsed, killing people inside.

The greatest damage was recorded in the western German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, but the rivers of neighboring Belgium, Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands were also dangerously overflowing. Parts of Liège, the third largest city in Belgium, have been flooded.

At least 50 people were killed in the Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate. In the town of Sinzig, 12 residents of a home for the mentally handicapped drowned when water rushed into their facility and quickly reached the height of the ceiling. Some residents have been rescued, according to reports.

The disaster also hit Erftstadt-Blessem, a town outside Cologne. Pictures and videos show houses sucked up by a massive landslide triggered by angry waters from a swollen Erft River.

Local authorities in Germany and elsewhere are accused of failing to properly warn the public of the risk of flooding.

The Ahr River floats past destroyed homes in Insul, Germany on Thursday. (AP Photo / Michael Probst)

The European Flood Awareness System issued an “extreme” flood warning earlier in the week, but it appears the warning has been ignored by many, although evacuations have been ordered in some. regions. Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist at the University of Reading who advises EFAS, told Politico it was “a monumental failure of the system.”

As of Friday morning, the death toll had eclipsed a hundred, but more than 1,300 people were still missing in the stranded German quarter of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. It is possible, however, that these individuals are alive but unable to use their cell phones.

The German military and emergency responders were deployed to rescue people from houses, trees and rooftops with boats and helicopters. Aid was also arriving from other parts of Europe and the European Union was mobilizing its disaster response system.

In this part of Europe, the floods are the worst in decades. The time chosen to make the disaster worse: to strike picturesque and attractive regions of forest-covered hills, meandering rivers, castles and magnificent river towns and cities which, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, are swelling this summer by tourists and nature lovers.

As the floodwaters receded in the devastated areas upstream on Friday afternoon, residents began the arduous and painful cleanup of the flooded homes and crews cleared the roads of debris, worked to restore electricity and reach the towns cut off by floodwaters and missing roads and bridges. Thousands of evacuees and homeless people have been accommodated in shelters and homes for foreigners.

German authorities have not provided damage estimates, but the extent of the wreckage will require months, if not years, of costly reconstruction.

Water flows through a street in Hagen, Germany, on Wednesday morning. (Alex Talash / dpa via AP)

The flooding occurred after days of rain and a period of heavy rain of 24 hours. The rain continued to fall on Friday, but the weather forecast is better for the weekend.

“We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating, ”said Malu Dryer, Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate, the hardest hit German state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting US President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday when the floods erupted. She returned to Germany to lead the rescue and recovery efforts.

“I am shocked by the disaster that so many people are experiencing in the flooded areas,” said Merkel. “My condolences go out to the loved ones of the deceased and missing. I thank from the bottom of my heart the many tireless helpers and emergency forces. ”

Dealing with the disaster will be a major test for Merkel’s likely successor, the new leader of her conservative party, Armin Laschet. Laschet is the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, his native German state devastated by flood waters.

He abandoned a pre-election retreat in Bavaria and headed for the flooded town of Altena, where two firefighters were killed while carrying out rescues. He said local authorities heeded flood warnings and erected barriers “while the sun was still shining and no one saw it coming”.

The Germans vote in the September federal election and Merkel, who is not running, will be replaced as leader for the first time since taking office in 2005. Merkel is considered the strongest hand and most powerful leader in the country. Germany, but also from Europe.

This catastrophic flood will not only challenge Laschet’s ability to handle a disaster, but will also put him on the defensive in the face of what is becoming a key issue in the next election: climate change. Its main rival is a resurgent Green party led by Annalena Baerbock, a 40-year-old lawyer turned politician. The Greens are campaigning with climate change as their main concern.

Laschet, 60, is a veteran pro-business politician who has spoken cautiously about global warming and he supports the coal industry, which is important in North Rhine-Westphalia. He is also a champion of a new but highly controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, the Nord Stream 2 project, and has said that wind turbines should not be placed near homes.

The devastating floods will put extreme weather conditions at the forefront of the Bundestag elections scheduled for September 26.

A car floats in the Meuse during heavy flooding in Liège, Belgium on Thursday. (AP Photo / Valentin Bianchi)

Many scientists warn that global warming is causing more extreme weather conditions, making droughts, hurricanes and rainstorms more intense. However, Europe has already been hit countless times by severe river flooding, making it difficult to link a single event, such as heavy rains due to this week’s blocked low over northern Europe, only to climate change. In 2002, Germany and the Czech Republic were devastated by flooding rivers that killed more than 100 people.

During a visit to flood-ravaged Hagen, Laschet sought to push back accusations that he doesn’t care about climate change.

“We will face such events again and again, and that means we need more speed in climate protection measures – nationally, in Europe, globally,” Laschet told reporters.

Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate for chancellor, was on vacation when flooding hit and German media said she was cutting her vacation short due to the disaster. On Twitter, she said her thoughts were with the flood victims and it was time to put politics aside and do everything possible to help those ruined by the floods.

Baerbock’s campaign for chancellery got off to a flying start and saw its results in polls match those of Merkel’s conservative ruling coalition, the Christian Democratic Union, and her sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union.

But the Greens are now lagging behind the CDU / CSU party, largely because of Baerbock’s own mistakes. She faces plagiarism charges, completing her resume and failing to report some income she received as leader of the Greens party.

European politicians from various walks of life blamed climate change for the catastrophic flooding on Friday. The disaster comes just a day after the European Union unveiled an ambitious and unprecedented set of laws and rules to force European businesses and individuals to move away from fossil fuels and force other world powers to follow its lead. .

“It is the intensity and duration of events that science tells us is a clear indication of climate change,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, former German Defense Minister. “It shows the urgency to act.”

Scientists have long warned that a warmer atmosphere is able to store more water and therefore trigger more precipitation.

But others see not only climate change, but also decades of overbuilding in the floodplains and vulnerable forests of western Germany as paving the way for this disaster.

“The catastrophic results of the heavy rains of the past few days are largely homemade,” Holger Sticht, head of the Friends of the Earth Germany regional chapter in North Rhine-Westphalia, told The New York Times. He criticized lawmakers and industry for encouraging development in floodplains and forests. “We urgently need to change course. ”

The Ahr River floats past destroyed homes in Insul, Germany on Thursday. (AP Photo / Michael Probst)

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union
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