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'It's terrifying': Merkel shaken as flood deaths rise to 188 in Europe

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the flooding that has devastated parts of Europe as "terrifying" on Sunday after the death toll across the region rose to 188 and a district of Bavaria was battered by the extreme weather, write Ralph Brock and Romana Fuessel in Berchtesgaden, Wolfgang Rattay in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Stephanie van den Berg in Amsterdam, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf .

Merkel promised swift financial aid after visiting one of the areas worst affected by the record rainfall and floods that have killed at least 157 in Germany alone in recent days, in the country's worst natural disaster in almost six decades.

She also said governments would have to get better and faster in their efforts to tackle the impact of climate change only days after Europe outlined a package of steps towards "net zero" emissions by the middle of the century.

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"It is terrifying," she told residents of the small town of Adenau in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. "The German language can barely describe the devastation that's taken place."

As efforts continued to track down missing people, the devastation continued on Sunday when a district of Bavaria, southern Germany, was hit by flash floods that killed at least one person.

Roads were turned into rivers, some vehicles were swept away and swathes of land buried under thick mud in Berchtesgadener Land. Hundreds of rescue workers were searching for survivors in the district, which borders Austria.

"We were not prepared for this," said Berchtesgadener Land district administrator Bernhard Kern, adding that the situation had deteriorated "drastically" late on Saturday, leaving little time for emergency services to act.

About 110 people have been killed in the worst-hit Ahrweiler district south of Cologne. More bodies are expected to be found there as the flood waters recede, police say.

The European floods, which began on Wednesday, have mainly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia as well as parts of Belgium. Entire communities have been cut off, without power or communications.

In North Rhine-Westphalia at least 46 people have died. The death toll in Belgium climbed to 31 on Sunday.

The scale of the floods mean they could shake up Germany's general election in September next year.

North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet, the CDU party's candidate to replace Merkel, apologised for laughing in the background while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to media after visiting the devastated town of Erftstadt.

The German government will be readying more than 300 million euros ($354 million) in immediate relief and billions of euros to fix collapsed houses, streets and bridges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

A person wades through water during a flood in Guelle, Netherlands, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
Police officers and volunteers clean rubble in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

"There is huge damage and that much is clear: those who lost their businesses, their houses, cannot stem the losses alone."

There could also be a 10,000 euro short-term payment for businesses affected by the impact of the floods as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the paper.

Scientists, who have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours, said it would still take several weeks to determine its role in these relentless rainfalls.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the link with climate change was clear.

In Belgium, which will hold a national day of mourning on Tuesday, 163 people are still missing or unreachable. The crisis centre said water levels were falling and a huge clean-up operation was underway. The military was sent in to the eastern town of Pepinster, where a dozen buildings have collapsed, to search for any further victims.

About 37,0000 households were without electricity and Belgian authorities said the supply of clean drinking water was also a major concern.

BRIDGES BATTERED

Emergency services officials in the Netherlands said the situation had somewhat stabilised in the southern part of Limburg province, where tens of thousands were evacuated in recent days, although the northern part was still on high alert.

"In the north they are tensely monitoring the dykes and whether they will hold," Jos Teeuwen of the regional water authority told a press conference on Sunday.

In southern Limburg, authorities are still concerned about the safety of traffic infrastructure such as roads and bridges battered by the high water.

The Netherlands has so far only reported property damage from the flooding and no dead or missing people.

In Hallein, an Austrian town near Salzburg, powerful flood waters tore through the town centre on Saturday evening as the Kothbach river burst its banks, but no injuries were reported.

Many areas of Salzburg province and neighbouring provinces remain on alert, with rains set to continue on Sunday. Western Tyrol province reported that water levels in some areas were at highs not seen for more than 30 years.

Parts of Switzerland remained on flood alert, though the threat posed by some of the most at-risk bodies of water like Lake Lucerne and Bern's Aare river has eased.

($1 = €0.8471)

Disasters

Hope of finding survivors of blast in German industrial park fades

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A view shows Chempark following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

The operator of a German industrial park that was rocked by an explosion on Tuesday (27 July) dampened hopes of finding more survivors in the debris and warned residents near the site to stay away from soot that rained down after the blast, write Tom Kaeckenhoff and Maria Sheahan, Reuters.

Two people were found dead after the explosion at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies including Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Lanxess (LXSG.DE), and 31 were injured.

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Five are still missing, Currenta chief Frank Hyldmar told journalists on Wednesday, adding that "we have to assume that we will not find them alive".

With the focus on the scene still on finding the missing people, including with the aid of high-resolution drones, the company said it was still too early to say what caused the explosion, which led to a fire in a tank containing solvents.

Experts are also analysing whether soot that rained down on the surrounding area after the blast could be toxic.

Until the results are in, residents should avoid getting the soot on their skin and bringing it into the house on their shoes, and they should not eat fruit from their gardens, Hermann Greven of the Leverkusen fire department said.

He also said that playgrounds in the area have been closed.

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Disasters

Blast in German industrial park kills two, several missing

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An explosion in a German industrial park on Tuesday (27 July) killed at least two people and injured 31, setting off a fierce blaze that sent a pall of smoke over the western city of Leverkusen. Several people were still missing, write Maria Sheahan, Madeline Chambers and Caroline Copley, Reuters.

Emergency services took three hours to extinguish the fire at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Lanxess (LXSG.DE), that flared up after the blast at 9h40 (7h40 GMT), park operator Currenta said.

"My thoughts are with the injured and with loved ones," said Chempark chief Lars Friedrich. "We are still searching for the missing people, but hopes of finding them alive are fading," he added.

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Police said five of the 31 injured people were affected seriously enough to need intensive care.

"This is a tragic moment for the city of Leverkusen," said Uwe Richrath, mayor of the city, which lies north of Cologne.

The area and surrounding roads were sealed off for much of the day.

Police told residents living nearby to stay indoors and shut doors and windows in case there were toxic fumes. Currenta said locals should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gases.

Firefighters stand outside Chempark following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler
Smoke billows following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021, in this still image taken from social media video. Instagram/Rogerbakowsky via REUTERS

Chempark's Friedrich said it was not clear what had caused the explosion, which led to a fire starting in a tank containing solvents.

"Solvents were burned during the incident, and we do not know precisely what substances were released," Friedrich added. "We are examining this with authorities, taking samples."

Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency's mobile phone app warned citizens of "extreme danger".

Leverkusen is less than 50 km (30 miles) from a region hit last week by catastrophic floods that killed at least 180 people.

More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro (1COV.DE), Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.

Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MQG.AX) for an enterprise value of €3.5 billion ($4.12bn).

($1 = €0.8492)

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Belgium

Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades

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The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

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A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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