Death toll from European flooding rises above160
Rescue crews worked to clear up damage laid bare by receding water on Saturday as the death toll from disastrous flooding in western Europe rose above 160.
The death toll in western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state, home to the badly hit Ahrweiler county, rose to 98.
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, destroyed homes and trapped residents.
“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 are counting on continuing support.
“Many people here in these regions have nothing left but their hope, and we must not disappoint this hope,” he said.
In Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday when the ground in a neighbourhood gave way.
At least three houses and part of a mansion in the town’s Blessem district collapsed.
The German military used armoured vehicles to clear away cars and trucks overwhelmed by the floodwaters on a nearby road, some of which remained at least partly submerged.
Officials feared that some people did not manage to escape in Erftstadt, but no casualties were confirmed by Saturday afternoon.
In the Ahrweiler area, police warned of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away.
Visiting Erftstadt with Mr Steinmeier, North Rhine-Westphalia governor Armin Laschet promised to organise aid for those immediately affected “in the coming days”.
He said regional and federal authorities would discuss in the coming days how to help rebuilding efforts.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet plans to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
“We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt,” Mr Laschet said.
Across the border in eastern Belgium, train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas.
A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited on Friday to offer comfort to residents.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo were visiting flood-damaged towns on Saturday, according to Belgian state broadcaster RTBF.
Southern parts of the Netherlands also have been hit by heavy flooding.
Thousands of residents were allowed to return home on Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that “first, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on clean-up and recovery”.
“It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods, he added.
His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
Among other efforts to help the flood victims, brewery Hertog Jan, which is based in the affected area, handed out 3,000 beer crates to locals to help them raise their belongings off the ground to protect them from the flooding.
In Switzerland, heavy rain has caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks, with authorities in the city of Lucerne closing several pedestrian bridges over the Reuss river.