Hard hit by the floods, Belgium and Germany are beginning to see the end of the tunnel, although the longest is yet to come. “The rescue operations are over but search operations are still underway in a number of areas,” the Belgian crisis center announced in a statement Sunday, which now reports at least 31 dead. In Germany, the balance sheet is 160 dead on Sunday.
A hundred missing in Belgium
In Belgium, “163 citizens are presumed missing” Sunday, against 103 the day before, said the crisis center. In the disaster areas, mainly in the south and east of the country, police officers were mobilized to knock on the doors of homes in order to discover possible new victims. “Many people are currently without means of communication following the loss of their phone, or the lack of means to recharge their battery” and some others “were taken to a hospital without identity papers”.
The weather improved with the end of precipitation on Friday, and sun and summer temperatures since Saturday. As a result, the level of the rivers has receded, revealing landscapes of desolation. The situation remains dangerous, however, and the Belgian authorities call for “avoiding” “the affected provinces”. “Many roads are flooded or dangerous,” recalled the crisis center on Sunday. Just over 37,000 households were still without electricity and 3,600 were without gas.
Questions about the warning system in Germany
In Germany, rescuers continue to search for the missing using helicopters, boats and specialized divers. The toll could grow even worse, the country still has hundreds of missing. In the canton surrounding the city of Bonn, which has nearly 600,000 inhabitants alone, more than 300 people were still missing on Saturday evening.
But questions arise. Have the weather warning and civil protection services failed in Germany in view of the deadly toll of the floods this week? The debate rages on and calls are multiplying to raise public awareness. “In 2021, we should not have to deplore so many victims,” said Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, on the German television channel ZDF, speaking of a failure of the warning system. “Several days before we could already see what was going to happen (…) and despite everything the alert chain was broken somewhere, so that people did not receive the warnings”, she accuses.
The warning system called into question
The German newspaper Bild, the most widely read in the country, also singled out the warning system. “Failure before the floods,” he wrote. And the newspaper specifies: “The sirens remained silent in many places, there were hardly any alerts launched” on the radio or on the television, “all this (…) is a disaster for the protection. civil, which is one of the essential missions of the State ”. The weather services are defending themselves by considering that they have warned against heavy rains.
The leader of the most affected region, that of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, assured Sunday that the flood warning systems had all been activated. But she admitted that the disruption of the mobile telephone system, caused by the floods, had made it difficult to warn the populations. “People have not yet really realized that their small stream, the small stream near their home can get out of their bed in a very short time,” said the person in charge of risk management at German civil protection, Wolfram Geier, on public radio.
Traveling in the disaster areas, Angela Merkel described the situation as “surreal”. “The German language is struggling to find the words to describe the devastation that has been caused,” she said, adding that everything will be done to rebuild. But the German Chancellor also warned against exaggerated expectations: “We of course reflect after each event on ways to improve. But sometimes natural disasters happen so quickly that there is no escaping them. “