Deadly flooding in Europe

By Eliza Mackintosh, CNN

Updated 8:01 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021
27 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
5:35 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

Dam breaks in German state hit by severe flooding

From CNN’s Susanna Capelouto

A dam along the river Rur in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia broke Friday night, according to the regional government.  

Officials have started the evacuation of about 700 residents in the Ophoven neighborhood of the city of Wassenberg.

Officials still fear more dams can break and are closely monitoring reservoirs in the region.

5:03 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

More than 800 German soldiers deployed for disaster relief

From CNN's Sarah Dean in London

Germany has deployed 850 soldiers to assist with its disaster relief effort after severe flooding left at least 105 people dead in two western states, the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces, tweeted Friday.

The Bundeswehr said 709 soldiers were deployed in 20 districts in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, before updating the figure to 850 later on Friday.

"Together with civilian helpers, the technical relief organization, fire brigades, we are pooling all available forces," the Bundeswehr said. 

Federal Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had spoken with her French counterpart Florence Parly who also "offered help from the French military."

"I have ordered that missions not directly related to foreign deployments go to the end of the queue," Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted.

"The priority of the Federal Armed Forces is now disaster relief. We are providing active assistance with emergency response & clearance work in the affected areas."
3:56 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

Residents of German town fearful nearby dams may collapse, official says 

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

Residents fill bags with sand to protect against flooding on July 16 in Erftstadt, Germany.
Residents fill bags with sand to protect against flooding on July 16 in Erftstadt, Germany. (Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images)

Locals in a German town badly hit by the severe flooding in North Rhine-Westphalia state are living in fear that nearby dams will collapse, a member of parliament for the state told CNN on Friday.

Speaking from the town of Erftstadt, Ralph Bombis of the Free Democratic Party told CNN’s Julia Chatterley the “biggest concern at the moment” are the water reservoirs and dams in the area.

“A lot of people have lost a lot but at the moment the rain has stopped so we hope the situation will calm down but there's still the big water reservoirs in the area and dams,” Bombis said.

“We hope that the damage at the dams will not be too bad,” he added. “There’s a dam south of here that is 1.2 million cubic meters of water so we really hope that the damage is not big at this dam.”

“This is the biggest concern in this area. People are putting the sandbags in front of their houses. It's a strange kind of situation where you wait and hope that nothing is going to happen anymore but still people are afraid that it might happen,” Bombis said.

The politician described how people who had decided to stay in their homes then saw their homes partly washed away last night. “Other houses, the basements flooded, everything was gone within minutes," he said.

3:23 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

German president to visit one of regions hit hardest by severe flooding

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at Bellevue Palace in Berlin on July 16.
Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at Bellevue Palace in Berlin on July 16. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit the Rhein-Erft-Kreis district of North Rhine-Westphalia state on Saturday after it was hit by severe flooding, a statement released by his office said Friday.

Together with Armin Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, he will assess the destruction of the area and meet with rescue workers to hear more about relief efforts.

2:12 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

Belgium will hold national day of mourning for flood victims

From CNN's James Frater and Amy Cassidy

Belgium will hold a national day of mourning for flood victims on July 20, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday, saying the country stands “shoulder to shoulder” with one another.

At least 20 people have died in Belgium in floods that have also hit Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

“It will be a moment to reflect on the great human loss, it will also be a moment to show solidarity, to show closeness, to show solidarity, to show friendship,” De Croo said, speaking at a news conference. “What were meant to be beautiful summer days suddenly turned into dark and extremely sad days for a high number of our fellow citizens.”

De Croo said that these “may be the most catastrophic floods our country has ever seen.”

The Belgian army is continuing with search and rescue operations with many people still stranded in their homes without electricity, along with support from the Netherlands, Luxembourg Germany, France, Italy and Austria. 

“The situation is changing by the minute, and remains extremely critical in many places,” said De Croo. “The victims are the priority, rescuing is the priority, and care. All possible means are mobilized.” 

He continued:

"The festivities of our national holiday on July 21 will also take place in a more limited format. I think that is understandable at a time when so many people will still be in great difficulty, and it also makes sense since a large part of the equipment at that time will still be fully deployed at the scene of the catastrophe.
"At a time like this it is good to see solidarity from all over the country is shown towards those affected. The services of professional aid workers, also of volunteers. We also see spontaneous actions of solidarity everywhere: providing food, clothing and other materials. 
"These are all signs that at a time like this, at a time of severe setbacks, we stand shoulder to shoulder in our country.
"I realize it is impossible to make up for the great loss, but what we can do today is help each other as best we can at this particularly difficult moment.
"The government will also do everything possible to ensure that affected families and municipalities can be supported as best as possible.”
12:43 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

Death toll in Germany reaches 105 as hundreds remain missing

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

At least 105 people have died in Germany following torrential rainfalls that swept through the country, hundreds are still missing, authorities said Friday. The Europe-wide death toll now stands at 125.

The death toll in Rhineland-Palatinate has risen to at least 62, Ulrich Sopart, a police spokesperson in the city of Koblenz, told CNN. ''We fear that the number of fatalities could rise over the next few days.'' 

Police also say that at least 362 people have been injured. As many as 1,300 people were still unaccounted for – mainly as a result of phone lines being down – but officials now say they expect those numbers to be revised down. 

The interior ministry in Germany's most populous state populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia told CNN that the number of at least 43 deaths has not gone up from earlier Friday. Interior Ministry spokesperson Leonie Möllmann said the ministry is not providing numbers on injured or missing people at the moment. 

In Belgium, there are conflicting reports regarding the death toll, with officials giving slightly differing numbers but all agreeing that the number is likely to rise.

“Twenty victims are confirmed dead, and 19 people have not been found yet, but clearly this number could grow in the coming hours,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said Friday at a news conference.

Earlier Friday, the acting mayor of Liege Christine Defraigne said at least 22 people had died and that “we are afraid to discover more and more.”

She told Sky News that “we know the coming days are full of grieving.”

12:18 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

Dutch authorities inspect broken embankment and ask residents to leave their houses

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Authorities in the Netherlands are inspecting a broken embankment along the Juliana Canal in the province of Limburg, according to a safety authority spokesperson speaking with national broadcaster NOS.

The safety authorities for South Limburg have changed their guidance for residents to shelter at home, and have now asked them to leave their houses, according to a statement on their website.

The spokesperson told NOS that they would use the inspection of the embankment to determine whether an emergency reparation was needed, and if so, how to carry it out.

11:40 a.m. ET, July 16, 2021

German soccer associations pledge $3.5 million to aid flood victims

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

The German Football Association (DFB) and the German Football League (DFL) have pledged 3 million euros — or about $3.5 million — to aid floods victims in their country.

“The images of the floods and devastation, the full extent of this disaster, leave us shocked and horrified,” the DFB and DFL said in a joint statement on Friday. “Our thoughts are with the relatives of the deceased, the injured and the many people in need.” 

“The DFB and DFL intend to make a financial contribution to Flood Victim Aid – a they did after the floods in 2013 – by jointly setting up a relief fund with a volume of three million euros," they said.

“'This will not be able to alleviate the human suffering. But we hope that together we can at least provide support in some areas. We consider solidarity in this crisis situation to be self-evident," the statement continued.

12:00 p.m. ET, July 16, 2021

How climate change is fueling extreme flood events, like those devastating Europe this week

From CNN's Brandon Miller

A man rows a boat down a residential street after flooding in Angleur, Province of Liege, Belgium, on July 16.
A man rows a boat down a residential street after flooding in Angleur, Province of Liege, Belgium, on July 16. (Valentin Bianchi/AP)

Flash flooding occurs when rain falls faster than the ground can absorb it. It is “flash” because of the rapid onset; water levels can rise feet/meters in minutes. 

While there are many factors that can worsen the impacts from heavy rainfall — ground type, such as soil or concrete, and how much moisture was in the ground to being with — the most important variable is how much rain falls over a period of time, or the rainfall rate.

Human-caused climate change has already fueled extreme rain events in hurricanes and in non-tropical flash flood events like we have seen this week in Europe. This is because of a simple physical relationship — known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation — between temperature and humidity. 

“Simply put, warmer air holds more water vapor,” said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. With more water vapor in a warmer atmosphere, rainfall rates can increase and flash flooding is more likely to occur.

Drought can compound this effect. Very dry soil cannot efficiently absorb water (think of trying to wet a very dry sponge). While the rain is ultimately beneficial, if a region that has been experiencing intense drought gets hit with heavy rain, flash flooding is more likely to occur.

While the overall amount of rainfall may not change over the course of the year in any given location, more of the rain is expected to fall in shorter bursts, which would tend to increase the frequency of flooding events. This was noted by scientists with the European Environmental Agency, who said that “the projected increase in frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation over large parts of Europe may increase the probability of flash floods, which pose the highest risk of fatality.” 

This week’s flooding in Belgium and Germany provides an all-too perfect demonstration of this in action. It was only a few months ago that historically low water levels on the Rhine in Cologne, Germany, were disrupting shipping along the river, but now the river is swelled by two months of rain falling in just one day.

Scientists are increasingly able to quantify the impact that a warming climate is having on individual weather events.

A similar, though at first-take not as extreme, flooding event in Western Europe in 2016 that killed 18 in Germany, France, Romania and Belgium, was analyzed by scientists to see if climate change played a role in the floods. They found that a warmer climate made the flooding 80-90% more likely to occur than it was in the past before man-made climate change.