The death toll from the devastating floods in western Germany has risen to at least 81 and many more are missing after the worst weather disaster to hit the country in 80 years. Entire towns and villages lay in ruins in the hardest-hit German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, where at least 1,300 people are reported missing.
Record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks, catching residents off guard and leaving a trail of destruction and despair in their wake.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in the US meeting with President Joe Biden, told victims the government would not “leave you alone in this difficult, terrible hour”.
“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” she said.
Neighbouring Belgium counted at least 12 dead, and thousands of homes were still without electricity in several border townd the Netherlands were also severely affected by the torrents of water, with thousands evacuated in the Dutch city of Maastricht.
But Germany’s toll was by far the highest, and likely to rise with the large numbers of people still missing.
There are fresh fears for people living below the Steinbach reservoir, which is overflowing and could burst. Further rain in the west of Germany is also threatening to raise the Rhine river to dangerous levels.
Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, blamed the extreme weather on global warming during a visit to a hard-hit area.
“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures … because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” he said.
German MP Stephan Mayer said he was “deeply convinced” the severity and scale of the flooding was linked to climate change.
“[Some German states] are used to floodings and they’ve had floodings in the past … but we haven’t experienced such an event like this one,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme on Friday.
“Small creeks, small streams developed within a few minutes into strong streams and rivers. The people couldn’t prepare for that, they couldn’t escape.”
Mobile phone networks have collapsed in some of the flood-stricken regions, which means that family and friends were unable to track down their loved ones.
Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled above.
Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.
“Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” said, recalling the floodwater crashing through her street during the night.
“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down, we thought it would break the door down.”
Around 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to help with rescue operations and rubble-clearing in affected towns and villages.
Streets and houses under water, overturned cars and uprooted trees could be seen everywhere the floodwaters had passed, while some districts were cut off from the outside world.
In Ahrweiler, a rural district south of Bonn, several houses collapsed completely, leaving the impression the town had been struck by a tsunami.
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At least 20 people had been confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-hit towns just to the north.
Its normally spick and span centre had been turned into a heap of rubble, with house facades torn off by the rushing floods.
Adding to the town’s woes, a nearby dam remains at risk of giving way.
“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing,” Ms Merkel said.
Five people are still missing in Belgium and the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.
With homes under water since Wednesday, people from resort town Spa were being put up in tents.
The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, said Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.
The storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 parliamentary poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power. German ‘s “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.
Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.
In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.
Political candidates were quick to open a bidding war on climate following the floods.
Source: The Nationalnews.com