More than 160 people died and 1,300 more went missing in Germany and Belgium when catastrophic floods blasted streams and streets into roaring torrents that swept cars away and drove buildings to collapse on Thursday, July 15.
Just days before the floods hit, an”extreme flood warning’ was issued by a European weather agency, however, the amount of rain that fell had never been experienced before, and countries were caught unaware.
“With these small rivers, they have never experienced anything like that,” said Uwe Kirsche, a spokesman for the German Weather Service. “Nobody could prepare, because no one expected something like this,” reports the NY Times.
Among those killed in Germany were nine inhabitants of an assisted living home for individuals with disabilities, as were two firefighters who were helping with rescue operations across the region.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Washington, expressing surprise at the extent of the floods.
Along with Joe Biden, Merkel expressed her concerns to all families who had lost loved ones or were still looking for them.
“I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days,” she added, speaking from the White House, where President Joe Biden was present.
Biden also expressed his thoughts on the tragic loss of life and devastation caused by the flooding.
He stated, “Our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones.”
At least 30 people died in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and another 28 in Rhineland-Palatinate to the south, according to authorities, there were eight deaths in the nation.
Recent rains in western Europe caused rivers and reservoirs to overflow, resulting in flash floods overnight when the saturated earth couldn’t absorb any more water.
Schuld was one of the worst-affected German communities, with many homes collapsing and scores of people missing.
Roadblocks and phone and internet disruptions impeded rescue efforts across the Eifel, a volcanic area of undulating hills and tiny valleys. Old brick and timber homes couldn’t survive the rapid surge of water, which carried trees and other debris as it poured down narrow alleys, reducing several towns to ruins.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had traveled to Schuld to assist his parents, claimed he had never seen the tiny Ahr River rage in such a terrible torrent before.
“This night, it was like madness,” he added.
Hundreds of people were rescued from their homes’ rooftops using inflatable boats and helicopters. Hundreds of soldiers were dispatched to help with the rescue operation.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate, told the regional assembly. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
Hundreds of sandbags were packed and delivered by the 52nd Civil Engineer squadron and numerous volunteers from the U.S. airbase at Spangdahlem to assist safeguard houses and businesses in the region, according to European Command.
The Vesdre River in Belgium overflowed its banks, causing water to churn through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a fireman’s rescue effort went awry when a tiny boat overturned and three elderly persons vanished.
Mayor Philippe Godin stated, “Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed.” then “I’m afraid they’re dead.”
The prosecutor’s office in Verviers said numerous bodies had been discovered, but it could not corroborate local media claims that four individuals had been slain.
The Meuse River burst its banks in Liege, a city of 200,000 people, the mayor pushed residents to move to higher ground.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen offered assistance, while Pope Francis expressed his sympathies, stating that the pontiff was praying for those who were hurt or missing, as well as those who had lost their livelihoods.
Many communities were cut off by floods and landslides that rendered roads inaccessible, making the entire scope of the devastation unknown. After the floodwaters retreated, several of the dead were uncovered.
Fears of a dam failure prompted authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne to urge the evacuation of numerous communities below the Steinbach reservoir.
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, paid homage to the two firemen who perished and promised immediate assistance.
During a visit to the flood-hit city of Hagen, he observed, “We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we won’t leave the communities, the people affected alone.”
The abnormally severe storms and an earlier heatwave, according to Laschet, a conservative who is vying to succeed Merkel as chancellor in this fall’s election, might be connected to climate change. During his tenure, Laschet, the son of a coal miner, has been chastised by political opponents for supporting the region’s coal sector while obstructing the growth of wind power.
According to Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean physics professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, it’s uncertain if Germany’s severe rainfall is a direct effect of global 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 collect more water vapor, which finally 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 added.
He noted that the weakening of the atmosphere’s summer circulation, which may lead to longer-lasting weather patterns like heat waves or persistent rain, could also have a role.
Rainfall lessened over Germany later Thursday, July 15, but water levels on the Mosel and Rhine rivers were forecast to rise further.
On Thursday evening, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands paid a visit to the hard-hit Dutch town of Valkenburg to offer solidarity to inhabitants and rescue services. Flooding inundated houses and shops, turning the main thoroughfare into a river of brown water.
Late Wednesday, the Dutch government dispatched approximately 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg to assist with evacuations and sandbag filling.
Thousands of people were forced to leave the city of Maastricht and villages along the Maas River on Thursday evening due to flooding fears, and facilities were set up to accommodate them. The Meuse River is known in Dutch as the Maas.
Heavy rains inundated vegetable fields, numerous residences, and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in northeastern France.
According to the publication L’Est Republicain, the Aire River surged to its greatest levels in 30 years in certain regions.
According to the French national weather service, two months’ worth of rain fell in two days, causing flood warnings in ten areas. There have been no reports of injuries or deaths, but forecasters have warned of mudslides and additional rain.