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Hundreds still missing after floods devastate western Germany

German emergency services stepped up their search for hundreds of people who are still missing after the worst flooding in the country’s postwar history caused 93 deaths and left a trail of devastation in its wake.

Rivers across parts of western Germany burst their banks after days of heavy rain turned them into raging torrents that swept away houses, destroyed bridges and roads and left several town centres in ruins.

Large parts of the rail network in the west were still severely disrupted on Friday, with several routes blocked. International train services from Germany to Belgium were also affected. Thousands remained without electricity, and some districts were without fresh water.

The death toll rose again on Friday when local authorities in Erftstadt-Blessem, south-west of Cologne, said a number of people had died after flood damage caused their houses to collapse. Gas leaks were complicating rescue efforts.

One place at the centre of the flooding was Schuld on the Ahr river: German TV showed its town centre piled high with debris.

“The effects of this catastrophe will surely be felt for weeks,” said Juergen Pfoehler, an official in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate, south of Cologne.

Officials in Ahrweiler said about 1,300 people appeared to be missing as of Thursday night. Cellular networks were down, however, making it hard to locate people. “Due to the complexity of the damage caused, a final assessment of the situation is not yet possible,” the district government wrote on its website.

Floods have also hit parts of Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, where 12 died and five people are still missing.

Speaking in Washington before talks with US president Joe Biden, German chancellor Angela Merkel pledged rapid help on Thursday to those affected by the floods, backed by “all the powers of the state”.

A severely damaged property in Schuld, near Adenau, in western Germany
Homes were severely damaged in Schuld, near Adenau, in Germany © Sasha Steinbach//EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

German interior minister Horst Seehofer told Der Spiegel magazine that the government would provide financial aid to the affected regions as quickly as possible, and a support programme would be put before the German cabinet on Wednesday.

Seehofer, 72, one of Germany’s veteran politicians, said that “in my entire political career in Germany I have never seen such a flood with such terrible consequences, with so many deaths and so many people missing”.

Scientists have warned that extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves will increase as the planet continues to warm.

“No one can seriously doubt that this catastrophe is connected to climate change,” Seehofer said. “Overall, any sensible person must get the fact that freak weather of this density and frequency is not a normal phenomenon in this part of the world, but the consequences of man-made global warming.”

A couple embrace as they stand amid debris caused by the floodwater in Germany
A couple embrace as they stand amid debris caused by the floodwater in Germany © Christof Stache/AFP/Getty

The floods affected two German states, North Rhine-Westphalia, where authorities said 43 people had died, and Rhineland-Palatinate, which reported 50 deaths. Local officials said they expected the death toll to rise once the floodwaters ebbed.

This month’s floods across Europe are expected to lead to another billion-dollar loss for the insurance industry, according to broker Aon. It follows a torrent of hail and heavy rain in June that Aon predicted would lead to $ 4.5bn in payouts from insurers — making it Europe’s costliest two-week stretch on record.

The total financial impact last month, including uninsured losses, was more than $ 6bn, it predicted. 

Additional reporting by Ian Smith

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A large-scale rescue effort is underway after the heaviest rainfall in a century caused flash floods to devastate parts of Western Europe

Fast moving torrents of water inundated entire towns and villages in western and southern Germany, causing buildings to collapse and leaving residents stranded, police said Thursday. At least 55 people have died in the severe flooding but authorities said that number is expected to rise.
Germany is worst hit with 49 dead, while six people died in Belgium. Luxembourg and the Netherlands are also affected.
In Germany’s worst hit Rhineland-Palatinate state, 1,300 people are “assumed” missing in the district of Ahrweiler, the local government said.
“In some areas we have not seen this much rainfall in 100 years,” Andreas Friedrich, a German weather service spokesman, told CNN. He added that “in some areas we’ve seen more than double the amount of rainfall which has caused flooding and unfortunately some building structures to collapse.”
Along with Rhineland-Palatinate, the German regions of North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland were worst affected, Friedrich added.
Extreme rainfall totals were observed Wednesday into Thursday morning across much of western Germany and the Benelux region, with North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate seeing the highest rainfall totals, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
Widespread swaths of these states saw 24-hour rainfall totals between 100 and 150 millimeters (3.9-5.9 inches), which represent more than a month’s worth of rainfall in this region.
Cologne recorded 154 millimeters (6 inches) of rainfall in only 24 hours ending Thursday morning, which is nearly double its monthly average for July of 87 millimeters (3.45 inches).
Locally heavier downpours resulted in extreme flash flooding. In Reifferscheid, an incredible 207 millimeters (8.1 inches) of rain fell in only nine hours, according to the European Severe Weather Database.

At least 30 dead in one German state

In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, 30 people have been found dead, a spokesman for the state government told CNN. According to the spokesman, at least 50 people were also injured in the floods and the number of people missing is unclear.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, at least 19 people were found dead, but “that number is expected to rise,” a spokesman for police in Koblenz told CNN.
On Thursday morning in the district of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, more than 1,000 police and emergency workers were called in, the local government said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on her swansong visit to Washington, DC, described the deadly floods as a “catastrophe.”
“Here in Washington, my thoughts are also always with the people in our homeland,” Merkel said at a news conference on Thursday ahead of her meeting with President Joe Biden.
“Peaceful places are going through a catastrophe in these hours, one can say a tragedy. Heavy rainfall and floods are very inadequate words to describe this — it is therefore really a catastrophe.”
Merkel said the focus is on the rescue and immediate response to those affected by the floods, but added that she was in close contact with her country’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, to work on a strategy for longer-term financial aid to help with recovery.
“I mourn for those who have lost their lives in this catastrophe — we do not yet know these numbers but there will be many,” she added.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert offered condolences to the families of the victims. “I am shocked by the disaster that so many people in the flood areas have to endure. My sympathies go out to the families of the dead and missing,” Seibert wrote on Twitter.
A woman tries to move in a flooded street following heavy rains in Liege, Belgium.
Merkel’s visit is likely her last to the US before stepping down as Chancellor in the fall after 16 years in power.
Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Conservatives’ candidate to succeed Merkel, visited affected parts of the region on Thursday.
“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” Laschet said.

Six deaths in Belgium

In neighboring Belgium, at least six people died in floods in the southern region of Wallonia, CNN affiliate RTBF reported Thursday, citing the magistrate on duty at the Verviers prosecutor’s office and the governor of the Liège province.
The Wallonia region borders North Rhine-Westphalia. The floods have also disrupted Belgium’s national railway network, Infrabel, stopping services in the French-speaking south of the country, the company said Thursday in a press release.
People ride on a trailer as the Dutch fire brigade evacuate people from their homes in South Limburg.
Italy has begun sending search crews and vehicles to Wallonia, the Italian Civil Protection agency said in a statement.
King Philippe of Belgium visited the town of Chaudfontaine, in the province of Liège, after it was hit by severe flooding.
“We are really touched by the severity of the catastrophe,” Philippe said in an on-camera statement. “Our thoughts go to the victims, their families, and all the people who had to be evacuated in emergency from disaster areas.”
Workers from France’s Civil Protection Agency arrived in the Belgium province of Liege to assist with recovery and rescue efforts.
“Rescuers from the instruction and intervention unit of the (French) Civil Protection carry out the first reconnaissance operations,” the French Civil Protection agency said in a post on Twitter, shortly after their arrival. “They will be joined this evening by firefighters, divers and lifeguards.”
The European Union also activated the civil emergency response mechanism to help areas of Belgium affected by floods, the EU Commission said Thursday in a statement.
“Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany you can count on the EU’s help to face these dramatic floods. My thoughts are with the victims of these tragic events and with all who will have to rebuild what they have lost. I want to thank all rescue teams for their invaluable help and relentless efforts,” EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted Thursday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted an offer of support on Thursday.
“Shocking to see the devastating flooding across Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium,” Johnson tweeted.
“My thoughts are with the families of the victims and all those affected. The UK is ready to provide any support needed in the rescue and recovery effort.”
Shipping was also suspended on the River Rhine, one of Germany’s longest and most important arteries of industrial transport, according to NTV news.
Weather service spokesman Friedrich said the downpours were caused by cooler and warmer rainfall mixing. “It came from France at the beginning of the week to Germany and has been sitting over Germany for the last 48 hours,” he said.
“For now we predict the worst of the torrential rainfall is over, though more heavy rain is due in southwestern Germany on the upper reaches of the Rhine, (Thursday) and Friday,” he added.

Dutch city calls for two neighborhoods to evacuate

The city of Maastricht in the Netherlands has called on residents of the Heugem and Randwyck districts to leave their homes “as soon as possible” due to rising water in the river Meuse.
“The water in the Meuse is rising rapidly. We expect it to cross the quays at Randwyck/Heugem around 3 a.m.,” a news release from the city council of Maastricht said. “This means water will end up in the streets and homes.”
According to the Dutch statistics office, the population of the two neighborhoods is more than 9,000.

With climate change comes warmer air holding more water vapor

The extreme rainfall was the result of a slow-moving area of low pressure, which allowed a conveyor belt of warm and moist air to fuel powerful thunderstorms and bring heavy, long-lasting rainfall, according to the German national weather service, DWD.
Intense rainfall rates are becoming more common in the warming climate, as warmer air can hold more water vapor that is available to fall as rain.
“These kind of high-energy, sudden summer torrents of rain are exactly what we expect in our rapidly heating climate,” according to Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading.
“The fact that other parts of the northern hemisphere are currently suffering record-breaking heatwaves and fires should serve as a reminder of just how much more dangerous our weather could become in an ever-warmer world,” Cloke said.
This story has been updated.

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Europe's Covid crisis: Virologist warns of FOURTH wave to devastate continent in autumn

EU nations are battling a dreaded third wave which has kept millions of citizens under lockdown restrictions as the summer season fast approaches. Meanwhile the UK continues to make steady progress on its vaccination programme and England remains on track to follow Boris Johnson’s “roadmap” out of the third nationwide shutdown.
Despite a promising dip in daily coronavirus cases and fatalities across the Channel, many EU nations are making slow progress on the vaccine front.

Hendrik Streeck said lawmakers should use this time to put in place structures to help communities battle another wave of the virus when the summer has ended.

In an interview with Focus, a Berlin-based news magazine, advised against declaring the public health crisis over.

Prof Streeck, a researcher at the University of Bonn in Germany, said: “It could be that we will experience a fourth wave in autumn.”

He continued: “We should use the time until then to optimise the structures and processes.”

Prof Streeck, 43, suggested a sort of pandemic council should be set up at the federal level “for the next pandemic”.

He said establishing such a body would be “very helpful” for communities if they are hit by another wave in the coming months.

And he called for a wide range of professionals from different backgrounds to be offered a chance to play a role.

READ MORE: Merkel ally launches furious attack on EU over vaccine hoarding

Turning the conversation to herd immunity, Prof Streeck expressed scepticism that this could somehow be achieved soon.

He cited a recent case of German doctor who had received a Covid vaccine before developing a “high viral load in his throat”.

The infected medical worker tested positive for Covid and also infected members of his family.

Prof Streeck welcomed the progress Germany has made on its vaccination programme in recent weeks but warned it was not a reason to feel fully relaxed.

He said the case of the doctor and other could be “just isolated cases” but added “we have to keep an eye on it”.

According to the latest statistics from Our World In Data, 36 percent of Germany’s population have received their first Covid vaccine dose.

Just over 10 percent of the population are fully inoculated, as 8.8 million Germans have had both injections.

Germany is performing significantly better than its fellow EU member states in the vaccine stakes but is nevertheless trailing the UK.

So far, nearly 54 percent of the UK’s population have been given one dose while 28 percent (18.8 million) have had both jabs.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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