Weather experts said rain in the regions of West Germany over a 24-hour period on July 14th has been unprecedented.
More specifically, the weather system brought down 148 liters of rain per square meter within 48 hours to a part of Germany that usually receives 80 liters in a month. A near-stationary low-pressure weather system caused sustained local downpours to the west in France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The heavy rainfall caused many damages, but the full extent of them is still unclear, considering that many villages were cut off because of flooding, cars floating down the streets and partially collapsed houses. This circumstances made the roads impassable.
More importantly, many people lost their lives and many more are missing. In Germany at least 58 lost their lives and dozes are missing. In particular, in the town of Schuld in the Eifel mountains 70 people were reported missing after several houses collapsed overnight. Across Rhineland-Palatinate state 28 deaths were confirmed by the evening. “There are dead people, there are missing people, and many who are still in danger,” said the state premier, Malu Dreyer. “We have never seen a catastrophe like this,” the Social Democrat politician added. “It is truly devastating.” In the neighboring western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, at least 30 people died, including two firefighters who drowned during rescue missions. In at least four separate incidents, in the cities of Cologne, Solingen and Unna, people died after being trapped by the floods in their cellars. In Leverkusen, a hospital with 468 patients had to be evacuated overnight following a power failure, after the Dhünn River breached its banks.
Hagen’s crisis team said water would reach levels seen not more than four times a century in coming hours and warned everyone who lived near the town’s rivers to move to higher ground immediately, public broadcaster WDR reported. Parts of Hagen were described as being isolated by high waters. Soldiers had to be sent to clear some areas of the city. Residents were also told to leave one district of the regional capital Düsseldorf. One care home in Hagen had to be evacuated, while across the region firefighters were busy pumping water out of hundreds of cellars. In one hospital, flood waters caused lifts to fail.
According to the energy network operator Westnetz, 200,000 people were affected by power outages in the two western states.
The army was deployed across North-Rhine Westphalia to help stranded residents, and rail, road and river transport has been disrupted in the country’s most populous state.
“Climate change has arrived in Germany,” the environment minister said, as the country reeled from the sight of destroyed buildings, upended cars and people stranded on rooftops. Angela Merkel expressed shock at the scope of the flooding. “I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” the German chancellor said during a visit to Washington DC. “We still don’t know the number. But it will be many.” Everything would be done to find those still missing, she said, adding that “‘heavy rain and flooding doesn’t capture what happened”.
Across the border in Belgium, the Vesdre River broke its banks and sent masses of water churning through the streets of Pepinster, close to Liège. A rescue operation by firefighters went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared. “Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed,” said the mayor, Philippe Godin. “I fear they are dead.”
In eastern Eupen, on the German border, one man was reported dead after he was swept away by a torrent. Another man was reported missing in eastern Belgium. Thousands of people in the south of the Netherlands were urged to leave their houses quickly to escape floods as rivers were on the brink of bursting their banks.
Several towns and villages along the Meuse river in the province of Limburg strongly advised people to seek refuge until at least Friday afternoon, as there was a large chance that their home would be flooded in the coming hours. Water levels on the Meuse and the Rur reached record levels on Thursday. In Valkenburg, in the far south of Limburg, close to the Belgian and German border, floods had already engulfed the town centre, forcing the evacuation of several nursing homes and destroying at least one bridge.
Germany’s weather service on Thursday warned of further heavy rain in Wuppertal and the Ennepe-Ruhr-Kreis region.
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