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Europe floods: Huge recovery operation underway as death toll passes 170

 

Rescue workers and volunteers are digging through sludge in parts of western Europe, where the number of people who died in flash floods is now over 170 – and as the rushing waters reach Austria.

Floodwaters are receding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where many have been left with wrecked homes, hundreds have been evacuated and officials continue to fret over the state of a major dam.

The spotlight in many areas has shifted to handing out cash donations for people to buy urgently needed goods, provide accommodation and compensation for those left homeless, and to continue hunting for survivors, reports Sky News.

But more bodies are expected to be found as the waters lower and reveal the extent of the devastation.

In Germany – where at least 143 people have been killed – authorities are poised to deliver a comprehensive aid package, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to visit some of the worst-hit areas today.

Days of torrential rain left rivers overflowing, leading to water surging through streets – lifting up cars, tearing up power lines, and collapsing homes.

“A lot of people have lost everything they spent their lives building up – their possessions, their home, the roof over their heads,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the town of Erftstadt on Saturday.

“It may only be possible to clear up in weeks how much damage needs to be compensated.

“Many people here in these regions have nothing left but their hope, and we must not disappoint this hope.”

Belgium’s national crisis centre said at least 27 people had died there, while train lines and roads remain blocked in the east of the country.

Parts of the southern Netherlands were also affected, while the torrential rain reached Austria overnight and caused flooding in the town of Hallein, near the German border.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, tweeted that rain and storms were causing serious damage in several areas of the country.

“I thank all first responders and volunteers who are doing everything they can to help! We won’t leave those affected alone and will support the reconstruction,” he said.

Fears remain of finding more people dead in Germany and Belgium, but the number unaccounted for has been dropping steadily.

Hundreds had been listed as missing in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Much of that is now believed to have been down to factors such as confusion, multiple reporting, lost or uncharged mobile phones, and power and network outages.

However, some people remain unaccounted for and 103 were still listed as “missing or unreachable” in Belgium on Saturday.

In Erftstadt, south of Cologne, one of the worst-affected towns, the German military have been using armoured vehicles to clear away damaged cars and trucks.

There were dramatic pictures from there on Friday when a landslide caused the ground to collapse in one neighbourhood, destroying houses and leaving a huge sinkhole.

Residents have been transported out – many left with nothing – and have been forced to queue for €200 (£171) handouts so they can buy basic supplies.

Despite receding waters, there is still a serious risk to some areas.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany was still in danger of being breached on Saturday and about 4,500 people have been evacuated nearby.

Police have also warned people in the Ahrweiler area to be wary of downed power lines, and are asking visitors to stay away as sightseers have blocked roads.

State minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, said: “Hundreds of people are willing to drop everything and help us on the ground, so I want to thank all those volunteers.

“Germany will do everything possible over the next couple of days to organise the funds necessary.”

Meteorologists said some areas had received two months’ rain in two days ahead of the floods, with more than 150 litres per square metre falling over 24 hours in parts of western Germany.

Several senior officials in Germany have blamed climate change for the disaster.

“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” said Malu Dreyer, governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state.

She said it showed the need to speed up action on the issue.

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