“The city has been destroyed”: Germany faces the consequences of the floods | Weather News
Berlin, germany – A bright blue painting rests on the soaked debris strewn across the streets of Stolberg in western Germany, marking the studio of local artist Dennis Brandt.
Inside, more wrecks are piled up in piles and soggy sketches peel away from the walls where floodwaters rose almost to the ceiling.
“The city has been destroyed, really everything, the streets and the houses,” Brandt told Al Jazeera.
“My studio, 20 years of work, of paintings, everything is gone. It was also a painting school for children, now it’s over too.
Among his now-destroyed collection was a post-apocalyptic view of Stolberg he painted last year, which depicted high water lapping around the town market. Brandt could hardly believe this had become a reality.
“A lot of my friends don’t have a home anymore,” he said. “It’s like a war.
Scenes of devastation in Stolberg reoccurred across swathes of western Germany and Belgium this week as flooding devastated low-lying towns in the region.
In Germany, at least 133 people have died, making it the worst natural disaster to hit the country in almost 60 years.
The Ahrweiler district south of Cologne has reported at least 90 deaths, including 12 residents of a care home for the disabled.
The tragedy has raised many concerns that German authorities have not done enough to prepare for increasingly frequent extreme weather events brought on by climate change.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, an unusually static low-pressure area dumped record levels of precipitation, with the worst-affected areas hit by intense storms on Wednesday evening.
Some received up to two months of rain in just 24 hours, according to the German weather agency.
Tens of thousands of emergency services and at least 850 troops have been deployed to the affected areas, using helicopters, armored vehicles and boats to rescue those trapped in the waters and search the remains of destroyed buildings.
Relief operations continue, but have been hampered by extensive damage to infrastructure, with many roads damaged or impassable, telephone networks down in several areas and more than 100,000 people without electricity on Friday evening.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on Saturday, offering consolation to those affected by the tragedy.
“We mourn with those who have lost friends, acquaintances, family members,” he said. “Their fate tears our hearts apart. “
Armin Laschet, NRW prime minister and frontrunner to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor after the September elections, ran alongside Steinmeier and pledged swift financial aid to those affected.
“We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt. “
Although floodwaters have receded in many areas, authorities remain on high alert.
Around 700 residents of a district of Wassenberg, near the Dutch border, were evacuated last night when a dam burst on the Ruhr.
The mayor of Wassenberg, Marcel Maurer, said the situation was stabilizing, but that it was “too early to give the green light”.
The German weather service also issued weather warnings for south-eastern Bavaria this weekend, where flooding is expected on the Danube.
Calm and narrow river
During his 20 years in Erftstadt, Johannes Ahrends never had to worry about the calm, narrow river from which the city takes its name.
But this week’s deluge sent torrents rushing downstream, crushing flood defenses and engulfing the city.
Houses have been ravaged by the rising waters and cars are now scattered like toys among the debris.
In the nearby town of Blessem, the waters filled a gravel quarry, triggering a landslide that caused several houses and a historic castle to collapse.
Authorities rescued 170 people, many of whom were airlifted to safety.
No deaths have yet been confirmed, although soldiers continue to search cars on a nearby sunken stretch of highway, where it is not known if all the drivers have escaped.
Although Ahrends’ own house is located about 400 meters from the flood, others have been less fortunate.
“A friend of mine who lived in this area lost all his clothes, his house, his car, everything,” he told Al Jazeera.
As soldiers arrived to help and the sounds of helicopters filled the air, residents started on their own, he said, creating a Facebook group to coordinate and provide sandbags and food to their neighbors.
“We need new infrastructure, but in this area of Blessem there is a hole 10 meters deep, so how can you recreate it? It is so scary and incredible that part of the city has truly disappeared and there is no chance to rebuild it.
The disaster has raised questions about whether Germany’s flood warning systems are adequate for increasingly unpredictable weather events in an increasingly hot climate.
Emergency warnings and evacuation advisories were issued when real-time river sensors detected a massive increase in water levels.
But small rivers and tributaries that were not previously perceived as threats were not monitored so closely, admitted the Minister of the Environment of Rhineland-Palatinate.
“Extreme rains were predicted, but not always in the right places and in the right amplitudes,” said Andreas Fink, climatology researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
“There were warnings, but the villages along the small Eifel river were not evacuated. “
Fink said improved forecast and evacuation procedures should be implemented quickly.
“Taller dikes and better infrastructure take time, but we need decisions now,” he added.
The disaster once again put the climate at the top of the political agenda just months before the federal election.
Although Merkel’s Christian Democrats have maintained a comfortable lead in the polls, her successor Laschet is widely seen as weak on climate protection for his support for coal mining and the auto industry – with an article in the influential weekly Zeit Friday describing him as a “Realpolitker on the Shun Reality”.
But for now, the campaign has been suspended and politicians are focused on helping the victims and mourning the dead.
Ahrends’ first concern is the reconstruction of Erftstadt and the rehousing of its neighbors, but he knows that the plight of the city is a sign of an increasingly unpredictable future.
“There is no doubt that this is about climate change,” he said.