The Jerusalem Post
At least 44 dead in floods in W. Europe, dozens missing
Houses collapse after Ahr river bursts banks south of Bonn
SCHULD, Germany (Reuters) – At least 44 people have died in Germany and dozens were missing on Thursday as swollen rivers caused by record rainfall across western Europe swept through towns and villages, leaving cars upended, houses destroyed and people stranded on rooftops.
Eighteen people died and dozens were unaccounted for around the wine-growing region of Ahrweiler, in Rhineland-Palatinate state, police said, after the Ahr river that flows into the Rhine broke its banks and brought down half a dozen houses.
Another 15 people died in the Euskirchen region south of the city of Bonn, authorities said. People in region were asked to evacuate their homes.
In Belgium, two men died due to the torrential rain and a 15-year-old girl was missing after being swept away by an overflowing river.
Hundreds of soldiers and 2,500 relief workers were helping police with rescue efforts in Germany. Tanks were deployed to clear roads of landslides and fallen trees and helicopters winched those stranded on rooftops to safety.
Around 200,000 households lost power due to the floods.
In Ahrweiler, two wrecked cars were propped steeply against either side of the town’s stone gate and locals used snow shovels and brooms to sweep mud from their homes and shops after the floodwaters receded.
“I was totally surprised. I had thought that water would come in here one day, but nothing like this,” resident Michael Ahrend told Reuters. “This isn’t a war it’s simply nature hitting out. Finally, we should start paying
attention to it.”
The floods have caused Germany’s worst mass loss of life in years. Flooding in 2002 killed 21 people in eastern Germany and more than 100 across the wider central European region.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dismay.
“I am shocked by the catastrophe that so many people in the flood areas have to endure. My sympathy goes out to the families of the dead and missing.”
In Washington for a farewell visit before she steps down following a federal election in September, Merkel promised financial aid for those affected.
“You can trust that all branches of government, federal, state and local, will join forces to do everything they can to save lives, avert danger and alleviate hardship,” she said.
Armin Laschet, the conservative
candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor and premier of the hard-hit state of North Rhine-Westphalia, blamed the extreme weather on global warming.
“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” he said during a visit to the area.
Climate and the environment are central themes in the election campaign, in which Laschet is going head-to-head with Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens.
In Belgium, around 10 houses collapsed in Pepinster after the river Vesdre flooded the eastern town and residents were evacuated from more than 1,000 homes.
The rain also caused severe disruption to public transport, with high-speed Thalys train services to Germany canceled. Traffic on the river Meuse is also suspended as the major Belgian waterway threatened to breach its banks.
Downstream in the Netherlands, flooding rivers damaged many houses in the southern province of Limburg, where several care homes were evacuated.
In addition to the fatalities in the Euskirchen region, another nine people, including two firefighters, died elsewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In the town of Schuld, houses were reduced to piles of debris and broken beams. Roads were blocked by wreckage and fallen trees.
“It was catastrophic,” said 65-year-old pensioner Edgar Gillessen, whose family home had been damaged.