Catastrophic floods claim lives of more than 150 people, leave more than 1 000 missing, Europe

Catastrophic floods claim lives of more than 150 people, leave more than 1 000 missing, Europe

More than 150 people across Europe have been killed and more than 600 injured after record-breaking rains caused catastrophic flooding on July 14 and 15, 2021. German authorities said more than 1 000 people are still unaccounted for. The worst affected were Germany and Belgium, followed by France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. 

In western Germany alone, the worst-affected region, more than 130 people have been killed after extremely heavy rains caused rivers to burst their banks, destroying roads, bridges, and homes. Numerous mudslides have contributed to the disaster which happened at an astonishing speed.

According to DW, more than 1 000 people are still missing and many more remain trapped in flooded buildings. Most of the unaccounted for are in the northern part of Rhineland-Palatinate. While it's unclear why there is such a high number of unaccounted people, it's possible this could be due to land and mobile network outages.

Many places in Germany's worst-affected state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), are still underwater, while others are assessing damage as floodwaters recede.

Leaking gas pipes and structural damage to buildings across the state have turned some sites into death traps and authorities have warned people not to go looking for missing relatives on their own but to leave it to rescue workers, DW reports.

Rhine-Westphalia minister said rescuers had carried out about 30 000 missions, airlifting people from flooded and destroyed homes and buildings. 

This is now considered one of the worst natural disasters in Germany's history and one of the deadliest flood events in Europe.

Parts of western Germany smashed numerous daily precipitation records going back 70 years.

The amount of rain that usually falls over the space of two months fell in just twelve hours in some parts of eastern Germany and northwestern France, said Frederic Nathan, a forecaster with Meteo-France. 

Cologne registered 154 mm (6 inches) of rainfall over a 24-hour period, breaking the previous record of 95 mm (3.7 inches). The Kall-Sistig weather station in North Rhine-Westphalia recorded 144.8 mm (5.7 inches) during the same period, breaking the previous record of 82.7 mm (3.2 inches) set in 1947. 

In just 9 hours, Reifferscheid near Bonn received 207 mm (8.1 inches).

"We have seen five or six cold spells since the beginning of June, which is something quite rare for this time of the year that we have certainly not seen in recent times," Nathan said, as reported by Bloomberg.

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 31 and the number of missing to 163 on July 18.

"We are still waiting for a definitive toll, but it could be that this flood becomes the most catastrophic our country has ever known," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.

While there were no casualties reported in Luxembourg, the country was still on Red Flood Alert on July 16 after record-breaking rains forced evacuations on July 15.

According to MeteoLux, more than 74 mm (2.91 inches) of rainfall was registered in a 12-hour period and almost 80 mm (3.1 inches) in 24 hours on July 15, breaking the previous July rainfall record set on July 22, 2016, at 69 mm (2.71 inches) and 71 mm (2.79 inches), respectively.

Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist who set up and advises the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) said the system has issued an 'extreme' flood warning earlier this week but parts of Europe were not prepared for the deluge.

Cloke told Politico the disaster was 'a monumental failure of the system.'

"I would have expected people to be evacuating, you don’t expect to see so many people dying from floods in 2021. This is very, very serious indeed," she said.

"The EFAS issued a warning in the 'extreme category,' Cloke said, "which means there's a danger to life. It doesn't say you should evacuate, that's up to the national authorities. But typically, if you have a danger to life warning, and you know where that's going to happen, you make sure that you're in place for evacuation. That’s how disaster risk management works."

It's worth noting that some authorities, including those in Belgium and Luxembourg, did issue life-saving evacuation orders.

Featured image credit: Guardian (stillshot)

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