Thursday, August 05, 2021

international

Germany comes to grips with massive flood damage as some regions brace for more rains


COLOGNE, Germany - The death toll in the devastating floods that hit Europe climbed to 184 on Sunday as rescue workers searched for bodies amid the receding waters while new storms hit alpine areas further south.

Heavy rain drenched parts of the German states of Bavaria and Saxony overnight as flooding spread to Austria and Switzerland.

At least 157 people have died in Germany alone since once-in-a-century summer rainfall caused rivers and dams to burst. So far 27 people have died in Belgium.

On Saturday night, areas of Bavaria were declared a disaster zone as the southern state on the border with Austria was hit by flash floods. At least one person died in the Berchtesgadener district.

The receding waters in parts of Germany have allowed the first assessments of the scale of the damage. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he would submit a plan for at least 300 million euros in emergency aid to the cabinet this week.

As new areas prepared for flooding, others were still reeling from the earlier inundations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the village of Schuld in the state of Rhineland Palatinate on Sunday, where entire homes were swept away last week by the swollen Ahr river, a tributary of the Rhine.

She described herself as "shocked" by the devastation and said the situation was "terrifying" in the affected areas. She pledged rapid, immediate help.

"Thankfully in Germany, we are living in a prosperous country, Germany is a strong country and we will counteract this natural disaster," she said, adding that in the long term the government would "focus policymaking more on climate protection than we have in recent years."

Human-caused climate change is believed to have affected the intensity of the rains.

Picture-perfect villages along the Ahr, with stone bridges and traditional timber-frame houses, were some of the worst hit. At least 110 people died in the state, according to police.

Another 45 were killed in neighboring North Rhine Westfalia. The death tolls are expected to rise as rescue workers pick their way through flooded homes checking for bodies. Teams with sniffer dogs have been sweeping mounds of debris clogging streets.

The force of the water ripped facades off houses, left cars hanging in trees and crumpled roads and bridges. Many died as the surging waters turned roads into rivers or drowned as they went to scoop floodwater out of their basements.

German military personnel and fire crews were still working to winch cars and trucks off a submerged highway on Sunday. Rescue workers said they did not know if people had enough time to get out of their cars before the floodwaters rose.

Thousands had to be rescued from rooftops. "The street was like a running creek," said Williams Horst, 71, who was trapped overnight Wednesday with his 86-year-old landlady and her caregiver. They were all helicoptered out in harnesses, picked from the backyard of the house in water up to their chests.

In Austria, floodwaters swept through the town of Hallen, near Salzburg, picking up cars and debris, but no fatalities were reported as of Sunday morning. Residents were told to stay out of basements. In Germany's Saxon Switzerland, a hilly national park around the Elbe, some areas were cut off due to the flooding, ZDF television reported.

Published : July 18, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Loveday Morris