Floods cause mass evacuations in Germany and Belgium as death toll climbs
BERLIN – Germany and neighboring countries evacuated new areas affected or threatened by the region’s worst flooding in decades as the death toll in that part of Europe stood at around 170 on Saturday, with rescuers looking for hundreds of people still missing.
Rainfall eased at the start of the weekend, but authorities warned that flooding could continue for several days before the water recedes. Farmland has been devastated across the region.
More and more bodies have been recovered from flooded houses, building rubble and torrent-crushed cars, meaning the final toll is likely higher, several German officials said.
“The suffering just does not stop,” Malu Dreyer, Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the two German states affected, said on Friday. Ms Dreyer said rescuers around the world were finding the bodies of the victims as the waters receded.
“We can only cry. It’s horror, ”she said.
The hardest hit community was Ahrweiler in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a small county that was home to nearly 100 of the roughly 140 people who lost their lives in flooding in Germany. Four of the victims were firefighters who died during rescue operations, authorities said.
“Ahrweiler was a beautiful town, and now it’s all gone, I can’t even express how horrible it is,” Rose Eberle, a resident, told local television. Ms Eberle’s home and her 40-year-old small business were devastated by the flooding, she said.
Among the victims were 12 disabled residents of a care home in the town of Sinzig, which was flooded in the middle of the night on Thursday. The outbreak of the flash flood was so sudden that a lone night porter who evacuated residents upstairs did not have time to get everyone to safety. The remaining residents were trapped upstairs by the flooding until rescuers arrived in boats the next morning.
Villages and entire neighborhoods were evacuated with the help of the armed forces in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as the army of those countries joined the effort to support thousands of rescuers in a context shortage of helicopters and other equipment.
In some cases, rescuers have had to wake residents up in the middle of the night and convince them to flee, with some people reluctant to leave their homes and farm animals, authorities said.
Part of the West German town of Wassenberg was evacuated after floodwaters caused a local dam to rupture overnight from Friday to Saturday. The nearby town of Erftstadt, near Cologne, was also evacuated on Friday after a landslide spreading from a nearby quarry created a huge crater.
In Belgium, where nearly 30 people died, rescue and evacuation efforts were concentrated in and around the city of Liege, while Dutch soldiers helped build dikes around Roermond, using sandbags and military vehicles. A spokesperson for the Belgian crisis center said they expected to find more bodies as the waters receded on Saturday and in the days to come.
Those made homeless by the disaster have been accommodated in schools, hotels and sports halls, and authorities in all affected countries have thanked the public for a flurry of donations of money, clothing and food for help survivors.
Hundreds of houses collapsed or were severely damaged in the western states of Germany, the Belgian region of Wallonia and the Dutch province of Limburg. Parts of Luxembourg have also been flooded.
Some houses collapsed days after the initial flooding because water weakened their foundations, prompting governments to warn residents of areas that had dried up not to return to their homes and even to search for them. missing persons.
Electricity and water as well as telecommunications have been cut in many areas. Parts of key roads and railroads were destroyed by the huge volumes of floodwater and some bridges washed away, what some residents described as the worst destruction in their area since World War II.
Several plants have been shut down and others are operating at reduced capacity. Natural gas lines have been shut off, affecting households that depend on gas for cooking and hot water.
Police in the German city of Koblenz have warned residents of the danger of electrocution from overturned high-voltage cables on flooded streets.
As the highways were emptied of flood waters, German troops used amphibious armored vehicles to remove dozens of cars stuck in mud and rubble.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will visit the flooded region on Sunday, said the government will put in place a major emergency aid program for the affected regions, and local authorities have announced that financial assistance will be disbursed quickly .
Write to Bojan Pancevski at [email protected]
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