Valentin Bianchi / AP
LIÈGE, Belgium – Street sidewalks were opened, houses collapsed and entire towns were destroyed in what is described as one of the worst flood disasters in Western Europe in more than two centuries.
More than 165 people have been confirmed dead, while dozens of others remain missing after record rainfall caused dams to burst and rivers overflowed in cities and streets in western Germany, Belgium, as well as in parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland and northern France. .
In Liege, Belgium’s third-largest city, water from the Meuse River overflowed Thursday night into parts of the city center, prompting city officials to ask residents to evacuate the area o They will seek higher ground.
Rebecca Rosman for NPR
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 81 years,” said Pierre Fouillen, a lifelong resident who came to the river on Friday morning to assess the damage.
Guy Leehan, a 62-year-old teacher who arrived in Liège earlier in the week, waited patiently in his boat on the quays of the Meuse for the water to subside so that he could continue his journey south.
“I’ve been trapped here for three days and I hope to be trapped for at least another 48 hours,” he said. “The water must go down at least another 4 meters [13 feet] before I can safely take off again. “
Rebecca Rosman for NPR
By the weekend, fears that a dam could burst subsided as the water level in the swollen river began to drop. But several chunks of debris flowing across the river from nearby villages, including parts of houses, street signs and car tires, served as a reminder that it would take weeks and months to repair the damage in the surrounding villages. .
“This may be the worst flood disaster our country has ever known,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, who declared Monday a national day of mourning. Additional search and rescue teams have been brought in from France and Italy to help locate the missing and assist with the clean-up.
In western Germany, the death toll amounted to at least 143 people. Meanwhile, firefighters say they carried out more than 1,000 search and rescue missions, which were complicated by the fact that flooding had severed power lines, disabling cell phone towers.
“I cry for those who lost their lives in this catastrophe,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a trip to Washington to meet with President Biden. “We don’t know the number yet, but there will be many.”
The flood has moved the climate change issue to the forefront of Germany’s upcoming elections: Merkel will leave office in the fall. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the country “must prepare much better” in the future, adding: “This is a consequence of climate change.”