Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Death toll rises in Europe flooding

Leaders promising aid to the affected ‘in the coming days’

- By Geir Moulson

BERLIN — Rescue workers labored to deal with damage laid bare by receding water Saturday as the death toll from disastrous flooding in Western Europe rose above 160 and thoughts turned to the lengthy job of rebuilding communitie­s devastated in minutes.

The death toll in western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state, home to the badly hit Ahrweiler county, rose to 98. Another 43 people were confirmed dead in neighborin­g North Rhine-Westphalia state. Belgium’s national crisis center said the country’s confirmed death toll rose to 27.

Days of heavy rain turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents last week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents.

Immediatel­y after the floods hit on Wednesday and Thursday, German authoritie­s listed large numbers of people as missing — something apparently caused in large part by confusion, multiple reporting and communicat­ions difficulti­es in the affected areas, some of which lacked electricit­y and telephone service.

By Saturday, authoritie­s still feared finding more people dead, but said numbers unaccounte­d for had dropped constantly, without offering specific figures. In Belgium, 103 people were listed as missing Saturday, but the crisis

center said lost or uncharged cellphones and people taken to hospitals without identifica­tion who hadn’t had an opportunit­y to contact relatives were believed to be factors in the tally.

Meanwhile, the receding floodwater­s eased access across much of the affected regions and revealed the extent of the damage.

“A lot of people have lost everything they spent their lives building up — their possession­s, their home, the roof over their heads,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting rescue workers and others in the town of Erftstadt.

Steinmeier said that people in the affected areas need continuing support.

“Many people here in these regions have nothing left but their hope, and we must not disappoint this hope,” he said.

In Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday when the ground in a neighborho­od gave way. At least three houses and part of a mansion in the town’s Blessem district collapsed.

The German military used armored vehicles to clear away cars and trucks overwhelme­d by the floodwater­s on a nearby road, some

of which remained at least partly submerged. Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but no casualties were confirmed by Saturday afternoon.

In the Ahrweiler area, police warned of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away. They complained on Twitter that would-be sightseers were blocking some roads.

Around 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg, on the Dutch border, after the breach of a dike on the Rur river.

Visiting Erftstadt

with Steinmeier, North Rhine-Westphalia governor Armin Laschet promised to organize aid for those immediatel­y affected “in the coming days.” He said regional and federal authoritie­s would discuss in the coming days how to help rebuilding efforts. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet plans to discuss the issue Wednesday.

“We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt,” Laschet said.

In eastern Belgium, train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas.

A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster brokedowni­ntearswhen

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Friday to offer comfort to residents. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited flood-damaged towns Saturday.

A resident of the Belgian town of Herk-de-Stad said she put off sleeping to try to empty her house of water.

“We have been pumping all night long trying to get the water out of the house,” Elke Lenaerts told broadcaste­r VTM on Saturday.

Parts of the southern Netherland­s also experience­d heavy flooding, though thousands of residents were allowed to return home Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that “first, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery.”

“It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods, he added. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.

Among other efforts to help the flood victims, the Hertog Jan brewery, which is based in the affected area, handed out 3,000 beer crates so locals could raise their belongings off the ground.

An emergency dike in the town of Horn didn’t hold and some houses were inundated. Authoritie­s issued a warning to stay off the Maas River because of debris, and rescuers worked to save a cow stuck neck deep in muddy waters.

 ?? CHRISTOF STACHE/GETTY-AFP ?? A man stands in front of a destroyed house Saturday after floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany. Receding floodwater­s revealed the extent of the damage Saturday.
CHRISTOF STACHE/GETTY-AFP A man stands in front of a destroyed house Saturday after floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany. Receding floodwater­s revealed the extent of the damage Saturday.

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