Rescue efforts on flooded streets in Luxemburg. Photo courtesy: Luxemburg fire and rescue
19 Jul 2021

200 dead and more are missing in central European rain storm - rescue divers have been called in to recover victims


The heavy, catastrophic rain in several parts of central Europe is on the decline,  however water levels are still high in many areas. In Germany, the death toll rose to 165 on Monday. In total 190 are confirmed dead, however, many more are still reported missing. Two firefighters have so far died on duty. 

The rainstorm named "Bernd" has caused floods, great destruction and has taken the lives of at least 190 people, especially in western Germany and Belgium. The material damage is enormous: Entire blocks of flats have "pancaked" and collapsed, roads, fields and entire homes have been washed away, along with vehicles and substantial parts of vital infrastructure in the affected areas.   

International media are describing this natural disaster as "the worst devastation in Europe since the 2nd world war". 

The storm has now decreased in strength and is moving slowly to the east. In many areas, however, the water levels remain high.


Calling in motorboats and divers

Many of the victims have been found in flooded basements where they tried to retrieve their valuables, while others were dragged along and killed by the powerful water currents.

Rescue workers have been called out in large numbers to evaluate damage to buildings, clean up debris and restore gas, electricity and telephone networks. In some places, the police have used motorboats and divers in the search, according to international media.


Rescue efforts on flooded streets in Luxemburg. Photo courtesy: Luxemburg fire and rescue
Rescue efforts on flooded streets in Luxemburg. Photo courtesy: Luxemburg fire and rescue 


More than 30 dead in Belgium

In Pepinster in eastern Belgium, rescue and military personnel have been searching for survivors among washed away property and debris, reports RTBF. A spokesperson describes how those who participated in the search effort had to be careful with every step they took in order not to be swept away by the collapsing or buried in debris from collapsing buildings.  

The number of casualties, which on Monday was confirmed to 31, might increase as more missing people are uncovered in the rubble. A national day of mourning has been announced for today, Tuesday, to honour the dead and injured in Belgium.

In some parts of the Netherlands,  residents who were evacuated earlier during the week, can now return to their homes. This also applies to residents who were at risk by being hit by debris from a hydroelectric dam that burst outside Roermond in the southeastern part of the country.



Fighting off "selfie tourists" and looters

In Munich, the river Isar has risen by several meters and the authorities are alerting for the risk of more severe flooding. This also applies to Lake Königsee in southeastern Germany, where hundreds of people have been evacuated.

In the midst of the great devastation, German media state that the police are forced to divert more and more resources into preventing unauthorized persons from entering houses in the most affected areas.

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of looting in the city of Eschweiler in western Germany.

"It makes me angry when I hear of people who are currently returning to their ruined houses and discover that looters have stolen what little they have left", says North Rhine-Westphalia's Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU).

In addition, the radio station Bayerische Rundfunk (BR) reports that the police have had to prevent people from entering the worst-affected areas to take selfies by flooding roads and houses.


Overflowing dam in Germany will be completely emptied 
On Monday, an expert panel also gathered to make a new assessment of the Steinbachtalsperre dam in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The water level in the dam has successfully been lowered in the last two days, partly through the dam outlet but also with the help of additional pumping systems.  Experts now assume that the position of the dam is stable.

"We are no longer worried that the dam will burst. All fish will be rescued from the water within the next few days and the dam will be emptied completely ", German authorities wrote on Twitter.


Two firefighters died on duty in Germany

Karl-Heinz Banse, president of the German Fire Brigade Association (DFV) wrote: 

“We mourn the loss of the firefighters who died in North Rhine-Westphalia. We are thinking of their families and co-workers . It is tragic when we lose people in action". 

One firefighter drowned in a storm in Altena. In Werdohl, another firefighter collapsed from heart failure during a rescue mission and could not be resuscitated.


Rescue efforts on flooded streets in Luxemburg. Photo courtesy: Luxemburg fire and rescue
Rescue efforts on flooded streets in Luxemburg. Photo courtesy: Luxemburg fire and rescue