Valentin Bianchi / AP
LIÈGE, Belgium – The sidewalks have opened up, houses have been razed to the ground and entire villages have been destroyed in what is described as one of the worst floods to hit Western Europe in more than two centuries.
More than 165 people have been confirmed dead, while dozens more remain missing after record rainfall caused dams to burst and rivers to overflow in towns and streets in western India. Germany, Belgium, as well as parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland and northern France.
In Liège, Belgium’s third largest city, water from the Meuse overflowed in parts of the city center on Thursday evening, prompting municipal authorities to call on residents to evacuate the area or to seek higher ground.
Rebecca Rosman for NPR
“I’ve never seen anything like it since I was 81,” said Pierre Fouillen, a longtime 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 this week, waited patiently in his boat on the quays of the Meuse for the water to come down to continue its journey south.
“I’ve been stuck here for three days and expect to be stuck at least 48 more hours,” he said. “The water must descend at least 4 meters more [13 feet] before it can be safely taken off again. “
Rebecca Rosman for NPR
Over the weekend, fears of a dam bursting eased, as water levels in the swollen river began to drop. But several debris flowing into the river from nearby villages – including parts of houses, road signs and car tires – was a reminder that it would take weeks and months to repair the damage in surrounding villages.
“This is perhaps the worst flood disaster our country has ever known,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, who declared Monday a day of national mourning. Additional search and rescue teams were brought in from France and Italy to help locate the missing and help with the cleanup.
In western Germany, the death toll is at least 143 people. Firefighters, meanwhile, say they carried out more than 1,000 search and rescue missions, which were complicated by flooding cutting power lines, disabling cell phone towers.
“I mourn those who lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on a trip to Washington to meet with President Biden. “We don’t know the number yet, but there will be plenty.”
The floods have put the topic of climate change at the forefront of the upcoming elections in Germany – Merkel will step down in the fall. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the country “needs to prepare much better” for the future, adding: “This is a consequence of climate change”.