Flash floods that left traces of devastation in Europe

The dramatic floods on 14 and 15 July 2021 killed more than 220 people in Europe, leaving a trail indestruction in Germany and Belgium, and damage in the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.

Here is a look at one of the worst natural disasters in Europe in recent years.

– heavy loss –

After two days of heavy rains, the flood waters carried away almost everything in its path, devastating entire settlements.

West Germany was the hardest hit by the floods. Rhineland-Palatinate recorded 49 deaths and North Rhine-Westphalia 135. In Bavaria, one person died, more than 800 were injured.

The total cost of damage in Germany is estimated at over 30 billion euros ($30.3 billion).

The flooding destroyed railways, roads, bridges, power lines and mobile phone poles, and disrupted gas, electricity and water supplies in a number of places.

In the two most affected regions, 85,000 households and about 10,000 businesses were affected.

Flash floods in eastern Belgium have killed 39 people. The Wallonia region was particularly hard hit, with about 100,000 people affected and 48,000 buildings damaged in the disaster.

– Extremes of climate –

More than 90 liters (24 gallons) of rain per square meter fell in the 24 hours before the flood in the Ahr Valley in Germany, while the average for the whole of July was just 70 liters.

The strength of the downpour has broken German records since meteorological observations began.

Other factors also contributed to the aggravation of the flood. After a rainy spring, the ground was already well saturated with water.

At the same time, the region’s steep, narrow valleys channeled flood waters, and the impermeability of developed land along the river’s edge prevented much of it from flowing away.

Experts pointed to the impact of anthropogenic climate change, which increases the likelihood of extreme weather events. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, resulting in more precipitation over shorter periods of time.

A month after the floods, an international scientific study using statistical models showed a link between global warming and the recent disaster.

In the affected area, stretching from Belgium to Switzerland, maximum rainfall has increased by 3-19 percent due to climate change.

– No alarm clock –

After the disaster, a number of failures in the early warning system were revealed.

Six days before the disaster on July 8, the European warning system noted a high risk of flooding in the region.

The German weather service and civil defense have also issued warnings. But they were not listened to.

Residents “understood the impression that it was heavy rain,” but “the amount was not specified” clearly enough, a German official said after the flood.

A criminal case was initiated on the fact of “negligent homicide”, including against the head of the Arweiler district.

The German government now intends to send alerts by telephone, a system known as “cellular broadcasting”.

Similar to a text message, an alert is sent to the mobile phones of people at risk. Unlike plain text, an alert is sent and received even when the network is congested.

Officials also want to reinstall the sirens, many of which have been removed in recent years.