The toll of devastating weather in Europe reached at least 126 dead on Friday, most of them in Germany, where many people remain missing, raising fears of a much more serious tragedy.
This is the worst natural disaster in this country since the war.
Belgium is also paying a heavy price with at least 23 deaths. And the floods following torrential rains have also caused a lot of damage in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
But it was western Germany that was most affected by the flash floods, with at least 103 dead alone, according to the latest report on Friday.
As in “war” ‘
“We have lived here for more than 20 years and we have never experienced anything like this, it is as if we were at war”, testifies to AFP a resident of Schuld, a village in Rhineland-Palatinate in large part destroyed, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65 years old.
“It’s impossible to describe in words, in two hours the cars were washed away, the trees torn down and the houses were collapsing,” he adds.
Many villages in this area present a picture of desolation.
The balance sheet could climb further: “As the cellars are emptied or the water is pumped, we keep falling on the bodies of people who have left their lives in these waves, so that I can not comment on the final assessment “, lamented Friday Roger Lewentz, Minister of the Interior of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the two regions most affected with neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia.
Near Cologne, a portion of a village literally collapsed on itself following a landslide on Friday. The spectacular images of the disaster area showed a vast yawning crater into which masses of earth, brown water and debris were pouring out.
The authorities warned that several people had lost their lives there.
“It was chaos”
In addition, in Rhineland-Palatinate alone, the authorities said they still had no news of 1,300 people in the worst-hit canton, that of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, which could however be linked to telephone disruptions.
Concretely, “we are still counting on 40, 50 or 60 missing persons and when you have people who have not given any sign of life for so long (…) we must fear the worst”, declared Roger Lewentz.
It is also expected to continue to rain in parts of the west of the country. And the level of the Rhine and several of its tributaries is rising dangerously.
Nearly a thousand soldiers were mobilized to help with relief and clearing operations in towns and villages.
In Ahrweiler, several houses literally collapsed. Under the rubble, the city gives the feeling of having been the victim of a tsunami.
“At 11:30 pm, there was only a little water, at 1 am, everything was under water. Our apartment, our office, the houses of our neighbors, everything was under water. minutes. It was very fast “, testified to AFP Agron Berischa, in the district of Ahrweiler.
“Billions of euros” in damage
“It is a unique disaster, of unprecedented magnitude,” asserts Gerd Landsberg, director general of the German association of towns and municipalities. “Judging by the damage, billions of euros are at stake,” he said.
These bad weather have placed the issue of global warming at the center of the electoral campaign, which is in full swing in Germany in view of the legislative elections of September 26, at the end of which Angela Merkel will leave power.
A warmer atmosphere retains more water and can cause extreme rainfall. These can have particularly devastating consequences in urban areas, with poorly drained waterways and buildings in flood-prone areas.
All the candidates compete in promises, two and a half months before the elections. The President of the Federal Republic, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, urged Friday, in a solemn declaration, to fight “resolutely” against global warming.
“These floods confirm what science is saying about global warming,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday in Dublin.
“My thoughts are with the victims of bad weather (…). France is united in this ordeal”, con side assured President Emmanuel Macron.
In Belgium, people are still missing and 21,000 inhabitants are deprived of electricity. The army was deployed in four of the ten provinces of the country to take part in the relief efforts and in particular in the numerous evacuations.
The situation could also worsen in Switzerland, with the risk of flooding several lakes and rivers.