Towns and villages in western regions of Germany have been destroyed after torrential rain caused flooding and rivers to burst their banks.
German emergency workers are continuing to search for missing people in the worst-affected regions in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. With more than 100 people confirmed to have died – and the death toll rising – the scale of the flooding disaster is unusual for European countries. We examined how the catastrophe unfolded and why there could be so many casualties. Keep in mind that this is a developing situation and things may change.
More than 100 dead after flooding disaster in western Germany Torrential downpours began in parts of Germany on Tuesday, resulting in flash floods. Firefighters were already pumping out water from basements across Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia at this time. The German Weather Service had issued its most severe weather warning possible between Eifel and the Mosel Valley in NRW and Rhineland-Palatinate due to the extremely heavy continuous rain. But no one expected the situation to deteriorate the way it did. An estimated three months of rain fell in just 24 hours.
The heavy rain on Wednesday caused more flooding and rivers to break their banks. Houses, cars and infrastructure became submerged in water and destroyed. Six houses collapsed in Schuld, Rhineland-Palatinate, a village with 700 people. Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled above. Residents said the sheer force of the water was unstoppable, meaning that people had very little time to try and get to safety.
When the water came, Schuld resident Peter Ohlert put documents and essentials in a box on Wednesday night, got into the car and drove up the slope. “I only had 20 minutes, it went that fast,” he told. The whole night he watched helplessly from a safe height. Now his house is almost destroyed – the water has pushed out the windows, with muddy curtains left hanging. But people are just thankful to be alive.
Sebastian Heinrich, deputy fire chief of Schuld, who was on duty on Wednesday night and Thursday said: “That was sheer horror. It’s not something you ever want to experience.” “Everything was under water within 15 minutes,” Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr, told. “Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was under water.” In North Rhine-Westphalia, the speed of the floods also took people by surprise.
Sebastian Kiefer in Hagen, , told: “It’s madness when you think about the force behind the water and everything it washed away.” The floods have resulted in more than 100 people losing their lives. Several bodies were found in basements during rescue operations.
The people often go to the basement when there’s flooding to see if they can protect their home by keeping the water out using buckets, or to rescue some of their belongings. However, the deluge of water means that is extremely dangerous. Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rheinland-Palatinate, told the death toll was likely to rise as emergency services continued to search the affected areas over the coming days.
Emergency workers have been struggling to save people in shaky buildings over the last days. At least two firefighters are reported to have died while working in the towns of Altena and Werdohl. “I’m actually still at a loss for words,” a woman in Lasbeck in the Sauerland region told, where she described masses of water coming down a road at high speed. “It’s a shock for everyone.” It’s “all still very unreal,” she said. In Iserlohn, a woman told on Wednesday that dozens of people had to leave their homes on Wednesday night and were given shelter in a gymnasium. “Some of them left their pets upstairs (in their homes) inside, because we did not know how long we would be there”, she said, adding that people were crying.
Meteorologist Sven Plöger, told the heavy rain was caused by a low-pressure area that has been moving over Germany. He said extreme rainfall has a massive impact on areas in different ways. “The heavier it rains, the more difficult it is for small streams, rivers or the sewage systems to drain off the water,” he said. “It becomes especially dangerous when there are narrow places due to a valley or construction sites and the water has to flow through there. “This is when the Bernoulli or jet effect kicks in, which in simple terms means “the narrower the faster”. This then leads to torrential and destructive floods of water. “Especially in mountainous regions such as the Eifel, the water mass is also accelerated by the slope and mudslides can also be triggered. In the lowlands, on the other hand, larger areas flood for a long time, making them unusable and a source of danger.”
The scale of the emergency has even shocked scientists. Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told that he grew up in a village in the affected area. He said it occasionally flooded, but not like this. “This week’s event is totally untypical for that region,” he said. Although many municipalities have been evacuated, should this have happened sooner! Are areas simply not equipped to deal with the flooding! What else could have been done to save lives! These questions will need to be addressed by German authorities in the coming days as the country comes to terms with the scale of the disaster. Experts say the disaster is linked to climate change. This issue is back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of the federal election on September 26th. Germany “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”. Scientists say that because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall. In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.
Mobile phone networks have collapsed in some of the flood-stricken regions, which means that family and friends are unable to track down their loved ones. Further north, in Erftstadt near Cologne, houses collapsed on Friday morning and rescue crews were struggling to help residents who had returned to their homes despite warnings