Flood toll in Europe exceeds 160 dead, costly reconstruction ahead | Your money
BERLIN (AP) – Rescuers scrambled to cope with the damage laid bare by the receding waters on Saturday as the death toll from catastrophic flooding in Western Europe surpassed 160 and thoughts turned to the long work of reconstruction of devastated communities in minutes.
The death toll in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, home to the hard-hit Ahrweiler county, has risen to 98. Another 43 people have been confirmed dead in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Belgium’s national crisis center said the number of confirmed deaths in the country had risen to 27.
Days of heavy rain turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused catastrophic flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents.
Immediately after the floods on Wednesday and Thursday, German authorities listed a large number of people missing – something apparently caused in large part by confusion, multiple reports and communication difficulties in the affected areas, some of which were lacking in information. electricity and telephone service.
Authorities were still worried about finding more dead on Saturday, but said the number of people missing had steadily declined, without providing precise figures. In Belgium, 103 people were reported missing on Saturday, but the crisis center said lost or uncharged cell phones and people taken to hospitals without identification who had not been able to contact relatives were considered factors in the count.
Meanwhile, receding flood waters have facilitated access to much of the affected areas and revealed the extent of the damage.
“A lot of people have lost everything they had spent their lives building – their belongings, their house, the roof over their heads,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting with rescuers and d other people in the town of Erftstadt.
“It may not be possible to clarify within a few weeks the amount of damage that should be compensated,” he said.
Steinmeier said people in the affected areas need continued support.
“Many people here in these regions have nothing more than their hope, and we must not disappoint that hope,” he said.
In Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, a heartbreaking rescue effort unfolded on Friday when the soil in a neighborhood gave way. At least three houses and part of a mansion in the Blessem district have collapsed.
The German military used armored vehicles to evacuate cars and trucks submerged in flood water onto a nearby road, some of which remained at least partially submerged. Authorities feared some people had failed to escape Erftstadt, but no casualties were confirmed on Saturday afternoon.
In the Ahrweiler area, police have warned of a potential risk of power line outages and urged curious visitors to stay away. They complained on Twitter that potential tourists were blocking certain roads.
About 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg, on the Dutch border, after a breakwater dike on the Rur river broke.
Visiting Erftstadt with Steinmeier, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet promised to organize aid to those immediately affected “in the coming days”. He said regional and federal authorities would discuss in the coming days how to help with reconstruction efforts. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet plans to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
“We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt,” said Laschet.
In eastern Belgium, railways and roads remained blocked in many areas.
A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited on Friday to offer comfort to residents. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited the affected towns on Saturday.
A resident of the Belgian town of Herk-de-Stad said she delayed sleep to try to empty her house of water.
“We pumped through the night to try to get the water out of the house,” Elke Lenaerts told broadcaster VTM on Saturday.
Parts of the south of the Netherlands also experienced heavy flooding, although thousands of residents were allowed to return home on Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.
Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that “first there was the crown, now this flooding, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and salvage.”
“It’s disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province affected by the floods, he added. His government declared the floods a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
Among other efforts to help flood victims, the Hertog Jan brewery, based in the affected area, distributed 3,000 cases of beer so residents could lift their belongings off the ground to protect them from the floods.
An emergency dike in the town of Horn failed and some houses were flooded. Authorities issued a warning to stay out of the Maas River because of the debris, and rescuers worked to save a cow stuck her neck deep in the muddy waters.
Angela Charlton in Paris and Molly Quell in Amsterdam contributed to this reporting.
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