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2021 European floods

Floods that occurred in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland in July 2021

2021 European floods
Satellite video of Europe from July 8th to July 15th
Date12 July 2021–ongoing
Location
Deaths205 in total
Missing240+
  • 70 in Belgium[7]
  • 170 in Germany[8]
Property damage200,000 properties left without power[9]

Since 12 July 2021, several European countries have been affected by catastrophic floods, causing deaths and widespread damage. The floods have affected several river basins, first in the United Kingdom and later across northern and central Europe including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.[10] At least 205 people have died in the floods, including 166 in Germany,[1][2] 36 in Belgium,[3] 1 in Italy[4], 1 in Austria[5] and 1 in Romania.[6]

The Belgian Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden described the events as "one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever known" and minister-president Malu Dreyer of the Rhineland-Palatinate state in Germany called it "devastating". In addition to the confirmed fatalities, the flooding led to widespread power outages, forced evacuations and damage to infrastructure and agriculture in the affected areas. The damage to infrastructure was especially severe in Germany.[11] During the aftermath of the floods, scientists, activists and reporters all highlighted the connection to global trends in extreme weather, especially more frequent heavy rainfall caused by climate change.

Weather events

Between 12 and 15 July 2021, heavy rain fell across the United Kingdom, western Germany, and neighbouring Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. A storm complex moved east from France into Germany and stalled over the region for two days. Precipitation was intense in the East of Belgium, with 271.5 millimetres (10.69 in) of rain over 48 hours in Jalhay and 217 millimetres (8.5 in) over 48 hours in Spa. Heavy rainfall was also seen in the south of North Rhine-Westphalia and north of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany where accumulations averaged 100 to 150 mm (3.9 to 5.9 in) in 24 hours, equivalent to more than a month's worth of rain. In Reifferscheid, 207 mm (8.1 in) fell within a nine-hour period while Cologne observed 154 mm (6.1 in) in 24 hours. Some of the affected regions may not have seen rainfall of this magnitude in the last 1,000 years.[12] Floods began in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland on 14 July 2021 after record rainfall in western Europe, causing multiple rivers to burst their banks.[13]

The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) issued alerts of life-threatening floods in advance, which were delivered to national authorities.[14]

Impact

Austria

On 17 July, a flash flood swept through Hallein, a town close to the German border.[15] Rescue workers in the states of Salzburg and Tyrol were placed on high alert for flooding, and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted "heavy rains and storms are unfortunately causing severe damage in several places in Austria."[16] A man died in Saalbach-Hinterglemm during the floods.[5]

Belgium

Flood and damage in Tilff [fr], Belgium on 16 July
Flood damage in Pepinster, Belgium on 17 July

On 15 July, all residents of the city of Liège, the third-largest urban area in Belgium with a population of approximately 200,000, were urged to evacuate amidst fears that the River Meuse could burst its banks and that a dam bridge could collapse.[17][13][18] No vehicles were allowed into the city centre of Liège; traffic was only allowed to leave as part of the evacuation.[19] By 16 July, several smaller municipalities in Limburg Province were also given the order to evacuate.[20] In addition, due to the heavy flooding and because tens of home fuel tanks had broken loose and started leaking into rivers, a number of municipalities in Liège and Namur provinces were left without potable tap water.[21] Around 41,000 households were left without electricity in Wallonia.[22] Foundations of buildings near rivers became eroded and buildings collapsed. In the town of Pepinster on the banks of the river Vesder, at least 20 houses collapsed and 23 of the 31 casualties in Belgium as of 18 July were found. The town of Verviers was also badly affected.[23]

Precipitation was most intense in the east of Belgium, with 271.5 millimetres (10.69 in) of rain over 48 hours in the municipality of Jalhay, in the province of Liège -- an absolute record for Belgium, almost three times the average rainfall over one month in this location for July. In the town of Spa, also in Liège, 217 millimetres (8.5 in) of rain fell over 48 hours.[24] Large parts of the province of Luxembourg saw between 150 mm and 200 mm over 48 hours. In Flanders, the maximum rainfall was 77 millimetres (3.0 in) over 48 hours at Ransberg. In Dilsen-Stokkem, the river Maas (Meuse) reached a flux of 3300 m3/s on 16 July, equalling the maximum flow that the local dykes are designed to withstand.

An empty passenger train derailed at Grupont when the trackbed was washed out by floodwater, with debris strewn across the track.[25] The CharleroiNamurLiège line, and all railway lines in Belgium south west of that line, were closed.[26] The overall damage to the rail network was estimated to take several weeks to repair.[27] Early estimates also pointed to severe damage to the agricultural sector of the country, including long-term effects like soil erosion. During the flooding itself, farms and livestock had to be evacuated and many fields were damaged and crops destroyed by inundation.[28] The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps suffered damage to access roads and its digital safety infrastructure.[29] The circuit is due to hold the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix on 29 August.[30]

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared 20 July a national day of mourning.[31]

Croatia

The Slavonia region has been affected by floods. Communities such as Našice, Županja, Nova Gradiška, and Osijek were flooded and heavy rain caused serious damage, especially for farmers.[32][33][34][35] No deaths were reported.

Czech Republic

Heavy rainfall led to flooding especially in North Bohemia, and several communities near Česká Lípa had to be evacuated. The country promised emergency aid to those affected by the floods of up to 57,900 koruna (2270 euro).[36]

France

The Grand-Est region has been affected by floods; the Hauts-de-France and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté regions have also been affected by local floods. Communities such as Bar-le-Duc and Arbois were flooded and residents were invited to stay at home. Between the Saône-et-Loire department and the Jura department, the Seille river and the Brenne river have reached the stage of fifty-year flood.

According to Météo-France, between Monday 12 July, 8:00 and Friday 16 July, 12:00, 199 millimetres (7.8 in) of rain fell in Châtel-de-Joux (Jura), 160mm in Plainfaing (Vosges), 159 millimetres (6.3 in) in le Fied (Jura) and 158 millimetres (6.2 in) in Villiers-la-Chèvre (Meurthe-et-Moselle).[37]

No deaths were reported at this time.

Germany

Flood damage in Hagen, NRW, Germany
Flooding in Kordel, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Flooding in Altenahr, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

With at least 166 deaths,[1] the floods are the deadliest natural disaster in Germany since the North Sea flood of 1962.[38][39][40] As of 16 July 2021, at least 1,300 people were still missing,[41] but mostly due to mobile networks being down in some regions which made it difficult to call people.[42] It was considered unlikely that the number of deaths would rise that high,[43] and while on 19 July the exact number of missing persons remained unclear, search was ongoing for at least 150 people.[2] Some 15,000 police, soldiers and emergency service workers have been deployed in Germany to help with the search and rescue.[44]

During the floods, 117 people died in Rhineland-Palatinate (all of whom were in the district of Ahrweiler),[2] 46 in North Rhine-Westphalia,[1] two in Bavaria,[45] and one in Baden-Württemberg.[46] Four firefighters are among the dead.[45][47] Westnetz, Germany's biggest power distribution grid, stated on 15 July that 200,000 properties in the North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate regions were without power,[48] and that it would be impossible to repair substations until roads were cleared.[49] On 16 July, around 102,000 people were still without power.[50] The German Weather Service reported that the quantity of rain in some areas of Germany was the highest in over 100 years, possibly higher than any seen in the last 1,000 years.[51][12] They reported that some areas had received a month's average rainfall in one day.[51]

Some of the worst damage from the flood was in the district of Ahrweiler, Rhineland-Palatinate, where the river Ahr rose, destroying many buildings and causing at least 110 deaths.[52] The topography of Ahr valley in western Germany, with some sections resembling gorges, may have exacerbated the effects of the heavy rainfall.[53] The flooding here was the worst since 1910 when up to 200 people were killed in flash flooding. On 14 July, the city of Hagen declared a state of emergency, after the Volme river started overflowing its banks.[49] The village of Kordel in Trier-Saarburg, which has around 2,000 residents, has been completely cut off.[48] Several rivers reached their highest water level to date, including the Kyll, which rose from an average level of 1 metre (3.3 ft) to 7.85 metres (25.8 ft).[54]

On 15 July, Thalys train services to Germany were suspended,[55] and Deutsche Bahn stated that many rail services in North Rhine-Westphalia were also cancelled.[56] Deutsche Bahn reported that over 600 kilometres (370 mi) of track was affected in North Rhine-Westphalia. The CologneWuppertalHagenDortmund and Cologne–Bonn (Main Central Station)–Koblenz lines were closed. The Cologne–Bonn Beuel–Koblenz line remained open, but trains were subject to delay and cancellation.[26] Customers were asked to avoid travel within and to North Rhine-Westphalia by train.[57] The train connection from Dresden to Prague was also suspended after mudslides buried the tracks.[58] Along the Ahr Valley Railway, at least seven railway bridges have been destroyed.[59]

In Blessem, floodwaters of the Erft river inundated a quarry on 16 July, leading to a major landslide with several people possibly dead.[60][61] Several buildings collapsed including parts of Burg Blessem [de].[62] Around 40 meters of the nearby Bundesautobahn 1 broke away and fell into the Erft, but no cars were on the highway since it was closed.[61] Experts voiced concerns on 15 July that the Steinbachtal Dam was unstable and could burst, and 4,500 people were preemptively evacuated from parts of Euskirchen,[63] and later several thousand more from parts of Rheinbach and Swisttal.[64] Drones were deployed to inspect the dam; while no cracks were found, local politicians said the situation as of 16 July remained "critical".[65] Several other dams in North Rhine-Westphalia, such as the Rur Dam, were also overflowing, but there were no concerns about their structural integrity.[65] Regardless, on 16 July a dam of the Rur burst near Wassenberg, prompting the evacuation of Ophoven [de].[66][67] Around 360 inmates had to be evacuated from a prison near Euskirchen due to a failing supply of water and electricity.[68]

Strong rainfall also led to flooding in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony. Near Heilbronn, a man fell into the river Jagst and was later found dead.[46] As of 15 July, one person in Saxony remains missing.[69]

Further strong rainfall on 17 July caused flooding in Saxony and Bavaria e.g. Berchtesgadener Ache, where at least one person died.[70][71] The flooding damaged the Königssee bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track where it washed away part of the track that will take until October 2022 to rebuild.[72]

Italy

The storms also reached Northeastern Italy and caused damage to agricultural crops. In Trentino-Alto Adige, a fallen tree damaged a cable car and several roads were damaged, and in Veneto one person died.[73]

Luxembourg

Flooded street in Clausen in Luxembourg City

In Luxembourg, 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Echternach and Rosport.[74] Many homes in Mersch, Beringen and Rollingen lost electricity.[75] The camping ground in Rosport had to be evacuated as a matter of urgency early on Thursday morning. Six people were brought to an emergency shelter in Osweiler cultural centre. Rosport sports centre was also used as emergency accommodation for people made to leave their homes. Mayor Romain Osweiler of Rosport explained the two buildings had been selected because they were accessible to people across the municipality.[76]

Netherlands

Flood of the Geul in the centre of Valkenburg, Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the River Maas in Limburg reached its highest summertime level in over 100 years, according to authorities, and was expected as of 15 July to surpass the winter records set in 1993 and 1995.[77] On 14 July, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute gave a code red highest warning for Limburg. It was lowered to a yellow warning at around 03:50 local time on 15 July. Much of the rest of the Netherlands had a yellow warning for rain on 15 July.[78] Over 400 houses in Limburg lost power according to electricity company Enexis.[78] As of 16 July 2021, mass evacuations started in Limburg and 300 military personnel were deployed.[79]

On 16 July, a dyke on the Juliana Canal broke, leading to the evacuation of several villages in Limburg. The Dutch government declared the flooding to be an official disaster. More than 10,000 people were evacuated in Venlo and the neighbouring communities Belfeld, Steyl and Arcen on the same evening.[80][81] The main hospital in Venlo was also evacuated as a precaution against flooding from the Maas. Rainfall was in excess of 100 millimetres (3.9 in) in a day and 200 millimetres (7.9 in) over three days, said to be a once-in-a-millennium event.[82]

Romania

In Alba County, rains and storms destroyed three houses and severely damaged another 20 in Ocoliș. More than 220 liters of precipitation per square meter fell in this area in five hours.[83] A hailstorm also affected Cluj-Napoca on the night of 19 July. The Heroes' Avenue was completely flooded, cars were damaged by falling trees, some neighborhoods were left without electricity and two people were injured by flying debris.[84][85] In Hândrești, Iași County, a 47-year-old man was killed by flood.[6] As of 20 July, heavy rains caused flooding in 29 localities in Alba, Brașov, Caraș-Severin, Dâmbovița, Dolj, Hunedoara, Iași, Maramureș, Mureș, Neamț, Prahova and Timiș counties.[86]

Switzerland

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Video of a swollen river (Aare) in Thun, Switzerland, on 13 July 2021
Flooded basketball court in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

On 15 July, Switzerland's weather service warned that flooding in the country would worsen over the next few days, potentially equalling the levels of the 2005 "flood of the century" and that there was a particularly high risk of flooding on Lake Biel, Lake Thun and Lake Lucerne, as well as a risk of landslides.[17][87] That day, the water level in Lake Lucerne reached the highest warning level.[88] While water levels on most lakes were receding by 20 July, Lake Neuchâtel still remained on the highest level since 1954.[89] Several rail services were temporarily suspended, and a ban on large watercraft like container ships on the Rhine was affecting the country's access to some goods like petroleum products due to the high reliance on the Port of Switzerland [de].[89]

United Kingdom

The cut-off low that caused the severe flooding across western Europe first moved over the United Kingdom on 12 July, resulting in more than the average monthly rainfall total to be recorded in a 24-hour period across parts of the country.[90] Particularly severe flash flooding was reported in the London area, where 47.8 mm (1.88 in) of rainfall was recorded on 12 July at Kew, marking the third-wettest day on record for that weather station and the wettest since 6 July 1983. Both Putney in London and Chipstead in Surrey recorded more than 31 mm (1.2 in) of rainfall in a one-hour period, while other areas of London recorded over 76.2 mm (3.00 in) of rain in 90 minutes.[91] The London Fire Brigade received more than 1,000 calls relating to flooding incidents, as houses were evacuated and cars were submerged by quickly rising floodwaters.[90]

Heavy rainfall caused sewer systems to overflow, unable to handle the sudden intensity of the rainfall, resulting in streets and buildings being flooded by raw sewage. Thames Water received more than 2,500 calls relating to overflowing sewage, stating that the rainfall had surpassed the design capability of their sewage system; the heaviest rainfall occurred close to high tide, resulting in sewers that empty into the River Thames being unable to do so.[90] In Notting Hill, floodwaters rose by 1.5 ft (0.46 m) in less than five minutes.[91]

Sloane Square tube station was closed after floodwater from street level surged down stairways into the underground station; Chalk Farm, Hampstead and Wimbledon stations were also closed due to flooding.[90] There was also a reduced level of service at Euston railway station, the London terminus of the West Coast Main Line and across the London Overground and Thameslink networks.[90]

Overnight into 13 July, more than 120 residents of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea were placed into emergency accommodation due to severe flooding in the borough.[92] Elsewhere in England, flooding was reported in the city of Southampton, blocking roads and railway lines.[92] By 14 July, the low pressure system responsible for the United Kingdom floods had moved over mainland Europe.

Response

EU satellite imagery, 15 July 2021, showing flooded areas marked in red on the rivers Meuse (Belgium and Netherlands), Rhine (Germany) and Ruhr (Germany). Flooded areas extend beyond the field of this image.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "shocked by the catastrophe that so many people in the flood areas have to endure" and that her "sympathy goes out to the families of the dead and missing."[93] Malu Dreyer, the minister-president of the Rhineland-Palatinate state, told the regional parliament: "There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger. We have never seen such a disaster. It's really devastating."[94][95] On 16 July, the German Ministry of Defence declared a state of emergency in the parts of the country that were most affected.[96][42] German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz on 17 July announced plans for a federal emergency aid of 300 million Euro.[68]

The Belgian Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden described the events as "one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever known" at a press conference on 19 July.[97] On 15 July, the Belgian royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde traveled to Chaudfontaine, which had been particularly badly hit by the flooding.[98]

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen,[99] the EU Council President Charles Michel and the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič all quickly provided statements of condolence for the victims and that the European Union was ready to help.[100] After a Belgian request, the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism was activated on 14 July, and a helicopter and a flood rescue team was sent from France to Belgium immediately after this. The EU also provided satellite imagery and mapping of affected areas.[101][102][103][104][105][106][107]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the UK was ready to provide assistance while Italy and Austria offered to send flood rescue teams to affected areas in Belgium.[108][94] Pope Francis sent condolences, and was praying for those injured and missing, as well as those who had lost their livelihoods.[99]

The Italian firefighters sent to Belgium to rescue the victims of the flood that hit Central Europe rescued at least 40 people in Tilff, an area south of Liège. Firefighters evacuated people who were stranded in their homes and in a nursing home.[109]

Connection to global climate change

An image of the Meuse and Roer rivers on July 16 (left) and on July 18 (right) as captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 shows flooding along the rivers [110].

The floods followed unprecedented heat waves in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Europe, prompting scientists to evaluate a possible connection to climate change.[93][111][112][113] Prior to the floods, scientists had warned that extreme weather events would become more common as a consequence of climate change.[113][114] Examples of such extreme events would include heavy rainfall; an increase in the atmosphere's temperature allows it to absorb more water vapour, resulting in more precipitation.[53][115][116] Climate change might also have resulted in the jet stream becoming more erratic, which could lead to more frequent extreme weather phenomena.[111][117][116] Further research and analysis are needed to understand the extent of climate change's role in the floods.[113][53]

Michael E. Mann from Penn State University studied the jet stream and concluded that a phenomenon dubbed "wave resonance" was "locking weather systems in place", but it was too early to tell whether the flooding in Europe was a result of that.[113] Hayley Fowler of Newcastle University and Kai Kornhuber of Columbia University also pointed to a slowing in the jet stream as a possible explanation,[113] and Carl-Friedrich Schleussner of Humboldt-Universität Berlin said the question was not whether climate change had contributed to the event, but rather "how much".[117] Dieter Gerten, a researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, characterised the magnitude of the floods and other extreme weather events as exceeding predictions from current climate change models, noting that the abrupt increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather may indicate that a tipping point has been crossed.[118] Stefan Rahmstorf of the University of Potsdam warned that further losses of Arctic ice would likely result in a weaker jet stream and more extreme weather, saying "we should not play with this sensitive climate system".[119] Antonio Navarra, climatologist at the University of Bologna and president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center foundation on Climate Change said that there is a clear correlation between the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the frequency and intensity of floods, heat waves and drought periods.[120][121]

In the aftermath of the flooding, a spokesperson of the World Meteorological Organization called for more action against climate change.[122]

See also

References

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