Heavy rainfall wreaks havoc in Europe, flood casualties rising

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Flooded bank of the Rhine river is seen in Cologne, western Germany, July 15, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

Heavy downpours in several west European countries in the past few days have been wreaking havoc, leading to disastrous flooding that causes rising casualties and damages.

Flash floods from heavy rainfall in western and southern Germany have left many missing. Casualties in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia alone have risen to at least 42, police and local authorities said on Thursday.

In the last two days, some areas in Germany recorded up to 200 litres of precipitation per square meter. The flash floods were caused as neither rivers nor saturated soil were able to absorb the unusually high amount of rainfall.

Several cities and small towns in Germany were hit by floods that blocked roads and highways, cut off electricity and even swept away entire houses. Many local police stations issued the highest warning and urged people to stay home.

The Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler area as well as Euskirchen, south of Cologne, were hit particularly hard, with 18 and 15 reported deaths respectively, according to local police. Two districts have been evacuated due to the danger of a dam burst at the Steinbach Dam in North Rhine-Westphalia.

There were "many others who are still in danger," said Malu Dreyer, minister president of Rhineland-Palatinate, adding that the actual extent of the damages could not yet be estimated.

Other than human casualties, the severe weather conditions caused "major power blackouts" in the Eifel, a hilly region at the border of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland Palatinate, a spokesperson of electricity provider Westnetz said in a statement.

In Belgium, between Tuesday and Thursday, non-stop heavy rains have hit hard the eastern half of the country, according to the Belgian weather forecast.

Torrential rain has caused severe disruptions in Belgium on Thursday, with entire streets and villages inundated by heavy flooding. The downpour has turned streams and streets into raging torrents, sweeping away cars and flooding entire villages.

Four bodies were found in the municipality of Verviers in the province of Liege in the central east part of the country, according to Belgian news website 7sur7. According to the Brussels Times, at least six people have died as a result of the heavy rainfall and flooding across Belgium.

"Our country is currently hit by extreme rainfall. We sympathise deeply with all affected families and local authorities," said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Twitter.

Public transport in Brussels is also heavily disrupted. The rains will continue to fall in the east and central part of the country, causing more rivers to overflow.

There are growing concerns that the Meuse River, which originates in France and flows through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea, may completely flood over the course of Thursday, causing more damage to towns nearby along its course.

In the neighboring Netherlands, heavy rainfall has caused severe nuisance in southern Dutch province Limburg on Wednesday and Thursday, with streets and houses being flooded and some people having been evacuated.

In the city of Valkenburg, soldiers helped to evacuate people from their flooded homes or care centers on Thursday. A hospice and two other care centers were already evacuated on Wednesday evening.

Fire brigades from other provinces helped to remove people from homes and pump the water away. The evacuated have been taken to shelters. About 400 households are without electricity.

The heavy downpour in Limburg was over early Thursday morning, but the drainage of the water is now the problem. The peak flow of Maas river (Meuse river in Belgium) has not yet been reached and the water will continue to rise for the next few days.

At around 3 p.m. local time, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)lifted the weather code red for Limburg. However, the KNMI warned that there is still a threat of flooding. This is also caused by water coming from Germany, where extreme rainfall also led to serious problems.

The EU (European Union) Civil Protection Mechanism, which coordinates member states in improving prevention, preparedness and response to disasters, has been activated to tackle heavy floods, following a request for assistance from Belgium on Wednesday.

A flood rescue team and a helicopter have been mobilised from France to assist with local rescue efforts, mostly in flooded areas around city of Liege. Italy and Austria have also offered flood rescue teams.

The European Commission coordinates and finances up to 75 percent of the transport costs of the assistance, according to a statement released Thursday on humanitarian aid operations.

"My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and with those who have lost their homes," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

"The EU is ready to help. Affected countries can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism," she added.

Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said: "The EU stands in full solidarity with Belgium at this difficult time and is providing concrete support. We express our condolences to the families who lost loved ones. I would like to thank the local and French first responders for their efforts. We stand ready to provide further assistance."

In addition, the EU's Copernicus emergency satellite mapping is providing assessment maps of the affected areas.

The bloc's 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre is in regular contact with the Belgian authorities to closely monitor the situation and channel further EU assistance.

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