BERLIN: JULY 17 – Officials said Friday that at least 110 people were killed in devastating floods that swept through parts of western Germany and Belgium, as rescue efforts and the search for hundreds of others continued.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said he is “stunned” by the devastation resulting from the floods, and has committed support to the families and cities of those killed.
“Our country is united in the hour of need,” Steinmeier said Friday afternoon in a statement. “We need to show solidarity for those who have taken everything from the flood.”
The Rhineland-Palatinate authorities in Germany stated that there have been 60 deaths, with at least 9 residents of the disabled assisted living center. In the north of the neighbouring country, state officers of Rhein-Westphalia paid 43 lives but warned against increasing numbers.
Rescuers rushed Friday to help trapped persons in the southwest of Cologne city of Erftstadt. Regional authorities said several people were killed by the decay of their homes, and air photographs showed what seemed like a huge sinkhole.
“Last night, we were able to get 50 people out of their homes,” said Frank Rock, the county head. “We know about 15 persons who have yet to be rescued.”
Rock told n-tv that authorities had no precise number yet for how many had died. When he talked to the German broadcaster.
“You must assume that some people couldn’t escape under the circumstances,” he said.
Authorities said late Thursday that about 1,300 people in Germany were still listed missing, but cautioned that the high figure could be due to duplication of data and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone connections.
In a provisional tally, the Belgian death toll rose to 12, with 5 people still missing, local authorities and media reported early Friday.
The flash floods this week followed days of heavy rainfall which turned streams and streets into raging torrents that swept away cars and caused houses to collapse across the region.
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Armin Laschet, has called an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday. The 60-year-old’s handling of the flood disaster is widely seen as a test for his ambitions to succeed Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s national election on Sept. 26.
Steinmeier called for greater efforts to combat global warming.
“Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,” he said.
Experts say such disasters could become more common due to climate change.
“Some parts of Western Europe … received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days. What made it worse is that the soils were already saturated by previous rainfall,” said Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization.
It was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heat waves on global warming rising global temperatures, she said but added: “Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.”
Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming.
“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” she told the Funke media group.
She accused the Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.
Thousands of people remain homeless after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities, including several villages around the Steinbach reservoir that experts say could collapse under the weight of the floods.
Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said the German military had deployed over 850 troops as of Friday morning, but the number is “rising significantly because the need is growing.” He said the ministry had triggered a “military disaster alarm,” a technical move that essentially decentralizes decisions on using equipment to commanders on the ground.
Across the border in Belgium, most of the drowned were found around Liege, where the rains hit hardest. Skies were largely overcast in eastern Belgium, with hopes rising that the worst of the calamity was over.
Italy sent a team of civil protection officials and firefighters, as well as rescue dinghies, to Belgium to help in the search for missing people from the devastating floods.
The firefighters tweeted a photo of one team working in Tillf, south of Liege, to help evacuate residents of a home who were trapped by the rising waters.
In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, which also has been hit hard by flooding, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 1.1 kilometer (0.7 miles) stretch of dike along the Maas river and police helped evacuate some low-lying neighborhoods.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Thursday night that the government was officially declaring flood-hit regions a disaster area, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation for damage.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region Thursday night and called the scenes “heart-breaking.”
Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to break their banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements, and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen late Thursday.
Erik Schulz, the mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said there had been a wave of solidarity from other regions and ordinary citizens to help those affected by the devastating floods.
“We have many, many citizens saying ‘I can offer a place to stay, where can I go to help, where can I registered, where can I bring my shovel and bucket?’,” he told n-tv. “The city is standing together and you can feel that.”