The death toll from catastrophic flooding in western Germany and Belgium has risen to at least 170 as thoughts were now turning to the lengthy job of rebuilding communities devastated in minutes.
- The flooding has caused destruction in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic
- The large number of people initially reported missing has been partly blamed on miscommunication
- Authorities are preparing for a massive recovery effort in areas devastated by the flooding
Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century.
That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Another 43 people were confirmed dead in neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state.
Belgium’s national crisis centre said the country’s confirmed death toll rose to 27.
Days of heavy rain turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents.
Immediately after the floods hit, authorities in both Germany and Belgium 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 local time, authorities still feared finding more people dead but said numbers unaccounted for had dropped constantly.
Nothing left but hope
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.
“It may only be possible to clear up in weeks how much damage needs to be compensated,” he said.
Mr Steinmeier said that people in the affected areas need continuing support.
Although the waters have been receding, it has not been the end of the threat to people and property.
In Erftstadt, south-west of Cologne, a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday when the ground in a neighbourhood gave way, causing at least three houses and part of a mansion to collapse.
Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but no casualties had been confirmed.
In the Ahrweiler area, police warned of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away.
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.
Countries reeling from ‘disaster after disaster after disaster’
In eastern Belgium, many train lines and roads remained blocked.
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.
Parts of the southern Netherlands also experienced heavy flooding, though thousands of residents were allowed to return home after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region, said “first, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery”.
At the other end of Germany, there was flooding on Saturday evening following torrential rain in the Saechsische Schweiz area near Dresden and across the border in the Czech Republic.
Roads, basements and railroad tracks flooded, disrupting train service between the Czech town of Decin and Bad Schandau, Germany.
A summer camp for children on the Czech side had to be evacuated.
In Austria, a flash flood swept through the town of Hallein, near the German border, late Saturday.