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Flood warnings 'were not taken seriously' by German local authorities

German authorities have confirmed that 133 have died, mostly in the Rhineland-Palatinate region.

The town of Mosel in Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate region
The town of Mosel in Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate region
Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Jul 17th 2021, 12:43 PM

LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN Germany have been criticised for failing to evacuate people from flooded areas quickly enough.

Rescue workers scrambled on Saturday to find survivors and victims of the devastation caused by the worst floods to hit western Europe in living memory, which have already left more than 150 people dead and dozens more missing.

Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, told AFP that warnings from forecasters “were not taken seriously and preparations were inadequate”.

Unsuspecting residents were caught completely off guard by the torrent dubbed the “flood of death” by German newspaper Bild.

Some residents were also simply unaware of the risks of such violent flooding, with dozens found dead in their cellars.

Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas, while cars were left overturned on soaked streets after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off.

“Some victims underestimated the danger and did not follow two basic rules during heavy rainfall. Firstly, avoid basements where water penetrates. Secondly, switch off the electricity immediately,” Armin Schuster, chairman of the BBK, a state agency specialising in natural disasters, told the Bild daily, a German newspaper.

Exceptional weather
Between 100 and 150 millimetres of rain fell between 14 and 15 July, according to the German weather service – an amount that would normally be seen over two months.

Europe has been hit by severe flooding before, but this week has been “exceptional in terms of both the amount of water and the violence” with which it was dumped, according to German hydrologist Kai Schroeter.

Many European politicians have squarely blamed global warming for the disaster, while Germany’s far-right AfD has accused them of “instrumentalising” the floods to promote a climate-protection agenda.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has declared Tuesday a day of official mourning.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who returned Friday from a trip to Washington overshadowed by the disaster, vowed to provide “short and long-term support from the government” to stricken municipalities.

Her spokesman said Friday she was in close contact with regional leaders about “a visit soon to the scene of the catastrophe”.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the flooding is “without doubt” the result of climate change.

Several towns in southern Netherlands suffered damage from flooding this week – though they were spared the worst seen in Germany and Belgium – and no deaths have been reported.

Asked late Friday during a visit to the southern province of Limburg whether global warming had contributed to the disaster, Rutte said that was “without a doubt the case”.

“I don’t want to make hasty declarations,” he said. “But something is really happening, let’s be clear.”

Urban Planning
Some experts have pointed to the dangers of poor urban planning and the increasing amount of concrete at the heart of a heavily industrialised, densely populated region of Europe.

The affected regions had already seen unusually high rainfall in recent weeks, meaning the soil was saturated and unable to absorb the excess water.

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When the ground is covered with man-made materials like concrete, the soil is less able to absorb water, increasing the risk of flooding.

“We have to assume we will find further victims,” said Carolin Weitzel, mayor of Erftstadt, where a landslide was triggered by the floods.

In Germany’s worst-hit states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, residents who fled the deluge were gradually returning to their homes and scenes of desolation on Saturday.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

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