Germany and Belgium remember the deadly floods of 2021

BERLIN (AP) — Germany and Belgium, warning that disaster prevention must be improved, marked Thursday the deadly floods that hit a year ago with high-profile monuments to pay tribute to the more than 230 people in those countries who lost their lives. life.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeiner visited the Ahr valley, where at least 134 people were killed when heavy rains turned streams into raging torrents that swept away homes, roads and bridges.

Germany’s wine region south of Cologne was hardest hit by the floods. Reconstruction work is still going on and the scars of the devastation are clearly visible.

Experts say such disasters will become more frequent due to climate change.

“We have to prepare better for such major incidents,” said Hendrik Wuest, governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where 49 people were killed. “Protecting the climate and preserving creation are the greatest tasks of our time. Adapting to the already existing consequences of climate change is also part of that.”

In Belgium, where 39 people have died in floods, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said “we cannot just sit back and wait for the next flood, the next heat wave or the next drought that will take lives.” He insisted that nations needed to build on the UN climate accords reached in Glasgow last year.

“We have to put climate protection at the heart of our security strategy,” De Croo said.

Edith Stoffels, who has lived in the village of Gemuend near Germany’s border with Belgium for 50 years, put it more bluntly, calling the 2021 floods “a nightmare.”

“When we looked out the attic window upstairs in the morning… it was like a lake here,” he recalled.

“Garden shed, cars, everything was gone,” Stoffels said. “It’s unimaginable.”

For weeks after the disaster, the exact death toll was unclear. It was later found that some of the bodies recovered from the rubble had died before the floods. Two other people are still missing. German authorities say at least two people took their own lives afterward. In addition, days later, more deaths from flooding were also reported in Austria and Italy.

Across the border in eastern Belgium, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde traveled Thursday to a series of remembrance events that included meetings with survivors and relatives and friends of the 39 people who died when flash floods affected several Ardennes villages.

The main ceremony was in Chenee, an area of ​​Liège where de Croo and other leading politicians joined the royals. But in neighborhoods along the Ourthe and Vesdre rivers, which grew to record levels last year, residents planned more intimate events to commemorate the loss of their way of life.

As in Germany, many families in Belgium have yet to recover from the devastation, either because their homes remain in disrepair or because they had to move elsewhere because their houses were destroyed.


Casert reported from Brussels.


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