One Dead, Four Missing In Blast At German Chemical Park

A dark cloud of smoke rises above the chemical park in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021. (AFP Photo)

 

 

One person has died and four are missing after an explosion at a chemical park in western Germany, the site operator said Tuesday, urging residents to stay indoors as a column of black smoke billowed from the area.

Another 16 people were injured in the incident in the city of Leverkusen, Chempark operator Currenta said, two of them seriously. All those affected worked at the site.

The cause of the huge blast, which was heard several kilometres away, remains unknown.

Germany’s NINA warning app sent an “extreme danger” alert to residents, telling them to close their doors and windows and keep emergency numbers free as much as possible.

The explosion happened at around 09:40 am (0740 GMT) at Chempark’s waste incineration site in Leverkusen’s Buerrig district.

The area is separate from the main industrial park that houses numerous chemical companies including Bayer, Lanxess and Evonik Industries.

At an afternoon press conference in Leverkusen, Chempark head Lars Friedrich said the warning to stay indoors remained in place while experts raced to identify the composition of the smoke cloud.

Asked whether the cloud might contain toxic gases, Friedrich declined to speculate but said nothing could be ruled out.

City mayor Uwe Richrath said it was “a dark day for the people of Leverkusen”.

Playgrounds in the Buerrig and Opladen neighbourhoods would be closed, he said, urging residents to rinse fruit and vegetables from their gardens before eating them.

– ‘Tragic accident’ –
The city of Leverkusen said on its Facebook page that measurements of pollution levels were all still “in the green” and that any measures taken were as a precaution.

A hotline has been set up to answer questions from concerned residents. Locals were also asked to report any sightings of soot or residue that may fall from the sky so it can be examined.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and the death of an employee,” said Chempark’s Friedrich, adding that “rescue efforts continue at full speed” to find the four missing employees.

The blast had triggered a fire in tanks used as storage for liquid solvents awaiting incineration, he said.

The large blaze took several hours to put out, with firefighters from nearby Cologne called in to help.

Three of the tanks “were completely or partially destroyed”, Friedrich said, making it impossible to tell for now where the explosion started.

Large numbers of police, firefighters and rescue crews were deployed to the scene, as well as pollution detection experts.

Police in Cologne tweeted that they had closed several motorways in the area because of “major damage” and urged drivers to avoid the area.

Locals shared images on social media of the black cloud rising into the air, with some saying their windows were rattled by the force of the explosion.

– Massive chemicals complex –
Leverkusen, on the eastern bank of the Rhine river, lies about 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Cologne in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It has a population of more than 160,000 people.

According to Currenta, the Chempark chemicals complex is one of the largest in Europe.

More than 70 companies are based at its three locations in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld-Uerdingen.

The chemical incident comes as Germany is reeling from historic floods earlier this month that left at least 180 people dead in North Rhine-Westphalia and neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state.

The high death toll raised questions over the country’s warning systems, and whether enough had been done to notify residents ahead of time.

Government officials have called for old-school sirens to be used more widely again, on top of smartphone warning apps and radio and TV broadcasts.

Currenta said it had used both sirens and the NINA app to sound the alarm after the explosion.

France Thrashed By Mexico In Olympic Opener As Brazil Beat Germany

Mexico’s forward Alexis Vega (R) vies with France’s midfielder Teji Savanier during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s group A first round football match between Mexico and France at Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on July 22, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

 

France’s bid for men’s Olympic football glory got off to a nightmare start with a 4-1 defeat by Mexico on Thursday, while Richarlison scored a hat-trick as reigning champions Brazil beat Germany in a six-goal thriller.

Sylvain Ripoll’s France are looking for a first Olympic medal since winning gold in 1984, but collapsed in the second half at Tokyo Stadium.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the result but also with the balance of our play,” said former Lorient boss Ripoll.

“To compete, we would’ve needed a big performance, but that wasn’t the case.”

Mexico took the lead less than two minutes after the break through Alexis Vega, before Sebastian Cordova doubled their advantage in the 55th minute.

The 35-year-old captain Andre-Pierre Gignac, whose last game for the French senior team was the Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal, pulled one back from the penalty spot with 21 minutes remaining.

But any thoughts of a comeback were quashed as Uriel Antuna and Eduardo Aguirre netted late on for 2012 champions Mexico.

France now face a tough task to get out of Group A with a top-two finish, ahead of games against Covid-hit South Africa on Sunday and hosts Japan on July 28.

“The first thing we now have to do is digest this disappointment,” added Ripoll. “We only have two days. There’s no time to waste.”

Japan saw off South Africa, who had two players test positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, 1-0 thanks to Takefusa Kubo’s second-half strike.

Brazil, who won gold for the first time when inspired by Neymar on home soil five years ago in Rio, downed Germany 4-2 in a dramatic match which saw forward Richarlison net a first-half hat-trick.

The Everton man scored three times inside the first half an hour, but Matheus Cunha missed a penalty and Germany then threatened an unlikely second-half comeback.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Nadiem Amiri pulled one back before the hour mark, and although Maximilian Arnold was sent off shortly afterwards, substitute Ragnar Ache cut the deficit to one goal with seven minutes of the 90 left.

But it was another Leverkusen player, Paulinho, who came off the bench and put the match to bed for Brazil in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

Ivory Coast also picked up three points in Group D as AC Milan’s Franck Kessie netted the match-clinching goal in a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia.

– Spain held by Egypt –

Spain struggled in Sapporo, as a team featuring six players who reached the Euro 2020 semi-finals dominated possession but created few chances in a 0-0 draw with Egypt.

The closest they came to a goal was when Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, who recently spent two seasons on loan at Arsenal, crashed a first-half shot against the post.

Spain, winners on home soil in 1992, next take on Australia in three days’ time before their final Group C match with Argentina.

Australia took early control in the table, as goals from Lachlan Wales and Marco Tilio saw them beat 10-man Argentina 2-0.

New Zealand made a successful start in Group B as Burnley striker Chris Wood, one of the three over-age players in the squad, secured a 1-0 victory over South Korea in Kashima with his 72nd-minute winner.

It was their first-ever win in Olympic football, having managed just one draw in each of the 2008 and 2012 tournaments.

An own goal saw Romania edge out Honduras 1-0 in the group’s other game.

AFP

Germany Floods Death Toll Hits 169

A car lies in the middle of Mud and debris in Dernau, Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, on July 19, 2021, after devastating floods hit the region. T
Jean-Philippe LACOUR / AFP

 

The death toll from devastating floods in Germany reached 169 on Tuesday, local officials said, bringing the total number of deaths in Europe to at least 200.

A total of 121 people are now confirmed to have died in Rhineland-Palatinate, emergency services spokesman Aaron Klein told AFP, up from the previous total of 117 in the western German state

More to follow . . .

Germany Vows To Improve Flood Warning System As Death Toll Passes 165

TOPSHOT – An aerial view shows the damaged village of Iversheim in western Germany, on July 18, 2021. – The death toll from devastating floods has risen to 156 in Germany, police said July 18, bringing the total to at least 183 fatalities from the disaster in western Europe. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

The German government on Monday pledged to improve the country’s under-fire warning systems as emergency services continued to search for victims of the worst flooding in living memory, with at least 165 people confirmed dead.

The west of the country was deluged over two days last week, with torrents of water sweeping away trees, cars and bridges and destroying swathes of housing.

Many victims in Germany were found dead in sodden cellars after attempting to retrieve valuables, while others were swept away by the sheer force of the water.

A total of 117 people are now confirmed to have died in Rhineland-Palatinate state, with 47 victims in neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and one in Bavaria.

At least 31 people also died in Belgium in the floods, and later torrential rain caused havoc in southern Germany and several neighbouring countries.

“We haven’t been to all the houses yet, we must assume that we will find more bodies,” said Rhineland Palatinate’s regional interior minister Roger Lewentz.

The number of people missing remains unclear, but Lewentz said authorities have been unable to reach more than a thousand in Rhineland-Palatinate, mainly because of disrupted communication networks.

The situation is similar in NRW, where police on Sunday said more than 700 residents initially unaccounted for had since been contacted, but several dozen remain missing.

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Government spokeswoman Martina Fietz said the national warning system and mobile phone app Nina had “worked” but admitted that “our experiences with this disaster show that we need to do more and better”.

Armin Schuster, president of the government’s civil protection agency (BBK), called on German radio for sirens to be reinstated in more areas as part of the country’s disaster warnings system.

– ‘Completely inconceivable’ –

Although meteorological services had forecast torrential rain and flash floods, many residents said they were caught off-guard by rapidly rising waters.

The floods caused sweeping power cuts and knocked down telecommunication antennas, preventing residents from receiving warnings in time.

Under Germany’s federal system, it is up to the 16 regional states to organise responses to flood alerts and coordinate efforts with the civil protection office and the fire brigade.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor after elections on September 26, on Monday called for a more centralised approach.

“In my view, the federal government must play a much stronger coordinating role,” she told the ARD broadcaster.

But during a visit to the flood-ravaged town of Euskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said it would be “completely inconceivable that such a disaster could be dealt with centrally from any one place”.

“I believe that we are still in the right position in Germany with our organisation of civil protection and disaster management,” he said.

Nevertheless, Seehofer said “we owe it to the families and the victims” to make improvements where necessary.

Visiting the flood zone in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, Merkel said lessons should be learnt but sometimes “things happen so quickly that you can’t fully escape the force of nature.”

– ‘Unbelievable tragedy’ –

The disaster has catapulted climate change to the top of the agenda in Germany, ahead of September’s polls that will mark the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Experts say that because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding.

As the clean-up gets under way, the bill from the flood damage is estimated to run in the billions of euros.

Merkel’s cabinet plans to approve an emergency aid package on Wednesday, which German media expects will total around 400 million euros.

In the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the search for bodies continued amid mud-covered streets piled high with debris.

“They are still searching. We will find dead people for sure,” a resident of the town told AFP, while another said he had witnessed a body being carried away on a cart by soldiers.

Seehofer spoke of an “unbelievable tragedy” and said he had “never experienced anything like it in my life”.

AFP

Germany Questions Warning System After Deadly Floods

TOPSHOT – An aerial view shows the damaged village of Iversheim in western Germany, on July 18, 2021. – The death toll from devastating floods has risen to 156 in Germany, police said July 18, bringing the total to at least 183 fatalities from the disaster in western Europe. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

As Germany mourns more than 150 people who died in floods and begins a mammoth clean-up task, questions are mounting about whether the country’s weather warning system failed to keep citizens safe.

Although meteorological services had forecast torrential rain and flash floods for western Germany last week, many residents said they were caught off-guard by rapidly rising waters that destroyed roads, bridges and homes.

“We shouldn’t be mourning this many fatalities in 2021,” Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at Reading University, told German broadcaster ZDF.

There had been “breaks in the warning chain” somewhere along the way, she said, and messages to evacuate or shelter in place on higher floors did not get through to enough people.

Under Germany’s federal system, it is up to the 16 regional states to organise responses to flood alerts and coordinate efforts with the civil protection office and the fire brigade.

Many local authorities use sirens, loudspeaker announcements or radio and TV bulletins to warn residents of acute danger or issue evacuation orders.

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There are also smartphone apps to keep users up to date on extreme weather in their area.

But Bild newspaper condemned the “failure” to take early action in the battered states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia.

“The sirens stayed quiet in plenty of places, very few alerts were issued,” it wrote, labelling the deadly flooding that followed “a disaster for civil protection, one of the state’s most essential jobs”.

– ‘Too late’ –

Gregor Degen, a baker in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the swollen Ahr river did some of the biggest damage, was among those caught by surprise last Wednesday evening.

“We’d heard weather reports of heavy rainfall and seen the odd picture of a flooded street in the region, but no one could imagine anything like this,” he told AFP.

“I saw a short alert but by then it was too late,” he said, recalling water quickly rising to a level of 2.5 metres (eight feet) in his home. “There was nothing you could do.”

Malu Dreyer, the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, surveyed the devastation in the nearby town of Schuld on Sunday and insisted that communities had heeded the weather warnings and “had all activated their flood defence systems”, including sirens in certain areas.

But she acknowledged that downed power lines and mobile phone outages had complicated efforts to reach everyone.

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, called for an overhaul of the early warning system.

“People had the impression that it was just heavy rain, the dramatic scale of it was not clearly communicated,” he told the Funke newspaper group.

He called for more staff and more competencies for the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BKK), and said the siren system should be used more widely so people can receive messages even when the electricity is out.

Minister for Research Anja Karliczek said Germany must prepare better for natural disasters, expected to become more frequent because of climate change.

“One of the lessons of this catastrophe in western Germany is that we must improve our research into these extreme weather episodes in the next few years,” she said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited the flood zone in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, said lessons should be learnt but cautioned against overly high expectations.

“Of course we ask ourselves what can be done better?” she said. “But in some situations things happen so quickly that you can’t fully escape the force of nature.”

AFP

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130

A picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows cars piled up by the water at a roundabout in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

 

 

Devastating floods have torn through entire villages and killed at least 128 people in Europe, most of them in western Germany where stunned emergency services were still combing the wreckage on Friday.

Unsuspecting residents were caught completely off guard by the torrent dubbed the “flood of death” by German newspaper Bild.

Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas, while cars were left overturned on soaked streets after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off.

“Everything was underwater within 15 minutes,” Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state, told AFP.

“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was underwater.”

Europe Reels From Worst Floods In Years As Death Toll Nears 130
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.
Christof STACHE / AFP

 

 

In nearby Schuld, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65, said “caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down”.

“We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it. It’s like a warzone,” he said.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rheinland-Palatinate, told Bild the death toll was likely to rise as emergency services continued to search the affected areas over the coming days.

“When emptying cellars or pumping out cellars, we keep coming across people who have lost their lives in these floods,” he said.

With five more dead found in the state by Friday evening, the nationwide death toll mounted to 108.

Adding to the devastation, several more people were feared dead in a landslide in the town of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) triggered by the floods.

In neighbouring Belgium, the government confirmed the death toll had jumped to 20 — earlier reports had said 23 dead — with more than 21,000 people left without electricity in one region.

Calling the floods “possibly the most catastrophic our country has ever seen,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

People stand in a devastated street in an area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Fearing the worst

In Germany’s hard-hit Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate, several houses collapsed completely, drawing comparisons to the aftermath of a tsunami.

At least 24 people were confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-affected towns.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said late Thursday from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.

“My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing.”

In Ahrweiler, around 1,300 people were unaccounted for, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged phone networks.

Lewentz told local media that up to 60 people were believed to be missing, “and when you haven’t heard from people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst”.

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021 (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Billions in damage

Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said the cost of the damage was likely to run into “billions of euros”.

In Belgium, the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.

The swollen Meuse river “is going to look very dangerous for Liege”, a nearby city of 200,000 people, warned Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.

In Switzerland, lakes and rivers were also swelling after heavy overnight rainfall. In Lucerne in particular, Lake Lucerne had begun to flood the city centre.

Some parts of western Europe received up to two months’ worth of rainfall in two days on soil that was already near saturation, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But there was some improvement Friday as the water level began to fall back.

Aerial view taken on July 15, 2021 shows the flooded village of Schuld, near Adenau, western Germany. Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

Climate change?

The severe storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Speaking in Berlin, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would “only be able to curb extreme weather situations if we engage in a determined fight against climate change”.

The country “must prepare much better” in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that “this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change”.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

AFP

German Floods Death Toll Rises To 133, 153 In Europe

A man walks through the floods towards destroyed houses in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany, on July 15, 2021. Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 42 people in Germany and left many more missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse.
Bernd LAUTER / AFP

 

 

The death toll from devastating floods in Germany reached 133 on Saturday, police said, bringing the total number of those killed in Europe to 153.

“According to current information, 90 people lost their lives during the disaster” in the Rhineland-Palatinate region, one of the worst-hit, police in the city of Koblenz said in a statement. A further 43 people have died in the neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, and 20 in Belgium.

Germany Picks Through Rubble After Deadly European Floods

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021, after heavy rains hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding and major damage.  (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

 

Rescue workers scrambled Saturday to find survivors and victims of the devastation wreaked by the worst floods to hit western Europe in living memory, which have already left more than 150 people dead and dozens more missing.

Western Germany has suffered the most brutal impact of the deluge that also pummelled Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, leaving streets and homes submerged in muddy water and isolating entire communities.

With the death toll in Germany at 133 three days into the disaster, rescuers said far more bodies were likely to be found in sodden cellars and collapsed homes.

“We have to assume we will find further victims,” said Carolin Weitzel, mayor of Erftstadt, where a terrifying landslide was triggered by the floods.

In Germany’s worst-hit states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, residents who fled the deluge were gradually returning to their homes and scenes of desolation on Saturday.

 

A man stands next to piled up debris and damaged cars in a street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021, after heavy rain hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding and major damage. (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP)

 

“Within minutes, a wave was in the house,” baker Cornelia Schloesser told AFP of the torrents that arrived in the town of Schuld, carrying her century-old family business with them.

“It’s all been a nightmare for 48 hours, we’re going round in circles here but we can’t do anything,” she said, surveying the heaps of twisted metal, broken glass and wood that have piled up at her former storefront.

In neighbouring Belgium, the death toll jumped to 20 with up to 20 people still missing and more than 21,000 left without electricity in one region.

Prime Minister Alexander de Croo was heading for the scene of what he has called “unprecedented” flood damage. He has declared Tuesday a day of official mourning.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hammered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the city of Maastricht.

 

People stand in a devastated street in an area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.  (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

– ‘Immense’ task –
A burst dam in Germany’s Heinsberg district 65 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Duesseldorf overnight prompted the emergency evacuation of more than 700 residents.

In some affected areas, firefighters, local officials and soldiers, some driving tanks, have begun the colossal work of clearing the piles of debris clogging the streets.

“The task is immense,” said Tim Kurzbach, mayor of Solingen, a city in the south of the Ruhr area.

The real scale of the disaster is only now becoming clear, with damaged buildings being assessed, some of which will have to be demolished, and efforts under way to restore gas, electricity and telephone services.

The disruption to communication networks has complicated efforts to assess the number still missing, and most roads in the submerged Ahr Valley are out of service.

More than 90 of the dead lived in its Ahrweiler district, including 12 residents of a home for the disabled who drowned in the rising waters.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rhineland-Palatinate, told local media up to 60 people were believed to be missing. More than 600 were injured.

The government has said it is working to set up a special aid fund, with the cost of damage expected to reach several billion euros.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who returned Friday from a trip to Washington overshadowed by the disaster, vowed to provide “short and long-term support from the government” to stricken municipalities.

Her spokesman said Friday she was in close contact with regional leaders about “a visit soon to the scene of the catastrophe”.

 

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the federal highway B265 in Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 17, 2021, after heavy rains hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding and major damage.  (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

– Focus on climate change –
The devastating floods have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged a more “determined” battle against global warming in light of the disaster, ahead of a visit to Erftstadt Saturday.

Armin Laschet from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the frontrunner to succeed the veteran chancellor, spoke of “a disaster of historic proportions”.

News magazine Der Spiegel said the floods would train a spotlight on the candidates’ response to climate change.

“There will be affirmations in the coming days that it’s not an issue for the campaign but of course it is,” it said.

“People want to know how politicians will lead them through something like this.”

German reinsurance giant Munich Re said nations would have to expect rising “frequency and intensity” of natural disasters due to the climate emergency, calling for preventive action “which, in the final analysis, will be less costly”.

UPDATED: At Least 42 Dead In Germany As Storms Ravage Europe

An Opel Astra car is covered in rubble after heavy rain and floods in Hagen, western Germany, on July 15, 2021. Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 42 people in Germany and left many more missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse.
INA FASSBENDER / AFP

 

Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 42 people in Germany and left many more missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse on Thursday.

Unusually heavy rains also inundated neighbouring Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, where at least four people were reported dead.

Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) states were the worst hit in Germany by the deluge, which has caused rivers to burst their banks and threatens to bring down more homes.

At least 18 bodies were recovered in the region around the western town of Ahrweiler alone, a police spokesman told AFP. Local officials had earlier reported up to 70 people missing.

Farther north, the district of Euskirchen in NRW reported 15 dead.

Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as helicopters circled above to rescue them from the rising waters.

Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “shocked” by the devastation and thanked the “tireless volunteers and emergency service workers” at the scene.

NRW leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to survey the damage in his state, Germany’s most populous.

“We will stand by the towns and people who’ve been affected,” Laschet, clad in rubber boots, told reporters in the town of Hagen.

 

 ‘Go to higher floors’

A man walks through the floods towards destroyed houses in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany, on July 15, 2021. Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 42 people in Germany and left many more missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse. Bernd LAUTER / AFP

 

Four of the dead were in the municipality of Schuld south of Bonn where six houses were swept away by floods, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz said.

Several other bodies were recovered from flooded cellars across the region.

The environment ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate warned it expected floodwaters on the Rhine and Moselle rivers to rise with more rainfall.

In NRW alone, 135,000 households were without power.

Emergency workers struggled to evacuate people in endangered buildings and two firemen were killed Wednesday in the line of duty in the towns of Altena and Werdohl.

Police set up a crisis hotline for reporting missing loved ones and residents were asked to send in videos and photos that could help them in the search.

Regional official Juergen Pfoehler urged people to stay home “and, if possible, go to higher floors” of their houses.

The German military deployed some 400 soldiers across the two affected states to assist in rescue efforts.

In the city of Leverkusen, a power outage triggered by the storms led to the evacuation of a hospital with 468 patients.

City authorities reported that after intensive care patients were moved to other facilities overnight, the other wards would have to be cleared in the course of the day.

 

 ‘Rarely experienced’

Aerial video grab view taken on July 15, 2021, from a video footage shows flooded properties, houses and landscapes after heavy rainfall and floods in Kesseling near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany, Ferdinand MERZBACH / NEWS5 / AFP

 

Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks. Four were reported dead.

The provinces of Liege and Namur were especially affected, with the resort town of Spa completely flooded. In the town of Chaudfontaine, daily Le Soir reported that nearly 1,800 people had to evacuate.

The country’s Infrabel rail network said it was suspending services in the southern half of the country, given the risks to travel.

The southern Dutch province of Limburg, which is bordered by Germany and Belgium, also reported widespread damage with rising waters threatening to cut off the small city of Valkenburg west of Maastricht.

Local news footage showed small rivers of water flowing through the scenic city centre’s streets and at least one old age home had been evacuated.

Officials also closed off several roads including the busy A2 highway, while fears remained that water from heavy rains in Germany and Belgium would push up river levels as it reached the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg government set up a crisis cell to respond to emergencies triggered by heavy rains overnight as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel reported “several homes” had been flooded and were “no longer inhabitable”.

-AFP

Storms Leave At Least 19 Dead, Several Missing In Germany

An aerial view taken on July 15, 2021 shows the flooded village of Schuld, near Adenau, western Germany, after heavy rains and floods caused damages and tore down at least six houses and dozens of people went missing. 
Christoph Reichwein / dpa / AFP

 

\Heavy rains and floods lashing western Germany have killed at least 19 people and left around 50 missing, regional officials said, as rising waters led several houses to collapse on Thursday.

Unusually heavy rains also ravaged neighbouring Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, where another two people were reported dead.

Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) states were the worst hit by the unusually heavy rainfall, which has caused rivers to burst their banks and threatens to bring down more homes.

“We have never seen such a catastrophe, it is truly devastating,” Rhineland-Palatinate premier Malu Dreyer told state lawmakers.

NRW leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to visit the scene in his state, Germany’s most populous.

“The situation is alarming,” Laschet told the daily Bild.

Four of the dead in Germany were in the municipality of Schuld south of Bonn where six houses were swept away by floods, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz told AFP.

Several of the dead were recovered from flooded cellars while another eight people were reported dead in the district of Euskirchen.

In NRW alone, 135,000 households were without power.

Emergency workers struggled to evacuate people in endangered buildings and two firemen were killed in the line of duty in the towns of Altena and Werdohl.

 

 Rising rivers

An aerial view taken on on July 14, 2021 shows a flooded intersection in Hagen, western Germany, after heavy rain hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding.
INA FASSBENDER / AFP

 

Police set up a crisis hotline for people to report missing loved ones and residents were asked to send in videos and photos that could help them in the search.

Rescue workers were deployed in helicopters to pluck people off streets and rooftops.

Regional official Juergen Pfoehler called on people to stay home “and, if possible, go to higher floors” of their houses.

The German military said it would deploy 300 soldiers across the two affected states to assist in rescue efforts.

Farther north in the city of Leverkusen, a power outage triggered by the storms led to the evacuation of a hospital with 468 patients.

City authorities reported that after intensive care patients were moved to other facilities overnight, the other wards would have to be cleared in the course of the day.

The environment ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate warned it expected floodwaters on the Rhine and Moselle rivers to rise with more rainfall.

 

‘Rarely experienced’

A man looks at a railway crossing damaged by the floods on July 15, 2021 in Priorei near Hagen, western Germany, after heavy rain hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding. 
SASCHA SCHUERMANN / AFP

 

Neighbouring Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks. Two were reported dead.

The provinces of Liege and Namur were especially affected, with the resort town of Spa completely flooded. In the town of Chaudfontaine, daily Le Soir reported that nearly 1,800 people had to evacuate.

“We have rarely experienced such intense flooding. You have to go back to 1998 to have experienced this,” Chaudefontaine mayor Daniel Bacquelaine told RTL radio.

The country’s Infrabel rail network said it was suspending services in the southern half of the country on Thursday, given the risks to travel.

“It is indeed impossible to ensure the safe movement of trains for passengers or to have access to strategic areas for their staff,” Transport Minister Georges Gilkinet told Belga news agency.

The southern Dutch province of Limburg which is bordered by Germany and Belgium also reported widespread damage with rising waters threatening to cut off the small city of Valkenburg west of Maastricht.

Local news footage showed small rivers of water flowing through the scenic city centre’s streets and at least one old age home had been evacuated.

Officials also closed off several roads including the busy A2 highway, while fears remained that water from heavy rains in Germany and Belgium would push up river levels as it reached the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg government set up a crisis cell to respond to emergencies triggered by heavy rains overnight as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel reported “several homes” had been flooded and were “no longer inhabitable”.

-AFP.

 

Benin Royal Museum Is Rightful Place For Return Of Stolen Artefacts – Oba of Benin

The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II speaks during a press conference at his palace in Benin City on July 9, 2021.

 

The Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty Ewuare II, has said repatriated Benin Bronzes should be returned to the Benin Royal Museum to be cited within the precincts of his palace.

At a press briefing in his palace on Friday, the Oba called on the Federal Government to take custody of the artefacts when repatriated until the royal museum is ready.

The Oba’s intervention and comments follow the controversy over where the artefacts, looted by British soldiers during the invasion of the Benin Kingdom, ought to be kept when returned.

 

According to him, individuals or institutions dealing with the private company, Legacy Restoration Trust, regarding the return of the looted artefacts does so at their own risk and against the will of the Benin people.

READ ALSO: Germany To Return 1,130 Looted Nigerian Artefacts In 2022

He advised Governor Godwin Obaseki to review the use of a private company to pursue the return of the artefacts, adding that the items should be returned where they were taken from.

 

On May 18, Germany, through its Director-General of Culture and Communication, Dr Andreas Gorgen, said his country was on a restitution mission to Nigeria to return all artefacts taken from the Benin Empire.

The announcement had led to questions over where the stolen artefacts – bronze, wooden, brass, metal and ivory tusks; collectively known as the Benin bronzes – would be returned to.

FG, Obaseki Firm Up Agreement

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, Edo State Government and the Benin royal family have concluded a meeting in Germany towards the return of stolen artefacts to Edo State.

The meeting in Berlin was attended by the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, while the Nigerian delegation includes the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.

 

The Benin Royal Palace was represented by the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare.

At the meeting, Lai Mohammed insisted on a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts domiciled in German museums, adding that the return should be whole rather than substantial. He said this in the wake of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make a ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.

Mohammed said the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works, noting, “That they are known as Benin Bronzes, which is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin).”

At a separate meeting with Maas, Mohammed also reiterated that no condition should be attached to the return of the artefacts.

He stressed the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes in addition to concluding all necessary negotiations in a very short term.

He added that the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks was not the end of an era, but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy between both countries.

The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II speaks during a press conference at his palace in Benin City on July 9, 2021.

 

The Minister thanked Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and the African continent, adding “We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead.”

Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, said a “transformational” museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.

The governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo State.

Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, said “the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issues as “an important personal concern.”

She assured the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022, noting that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation. She said such a move indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, saying all the Museums in Germany stockpiling Benin Bronzes have agreed to cooperate.

Other people on the Nigerian delegation were the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar and Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani.

They were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum in the heart of Berlin that houses artworks from around the world.

See more photos from the press conference below:

Queen To Host Germany’s Merkel During UK Visit

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Britain’s Princess Anne, Princess Royal gesture during a visit to The Children’s Wood Project in Glasgow on June 30, 2021, as part of her traditional trip to Scotland for Holyrood Week. (Photo by Andrew Milligan / POOL / AFP)

 

Queen Elizabeth II will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visits Britain this week, Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday.

The Queen, who has met the chancellor several times during Merkel’s 16 years in power, will host the German leader at Windsor Castle, west of London.

Merkel’s visit is expected to be her last to Britain after the announcement she will retire from politics after upcoming legislative elections.

The chancellor was also among leaders hosted at this month’s G7 summit in Cornwall, southwest England, which the 95-year-old Queen attended.

On Friday, the German leader will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at his Chequers country retreat northwest of London.

The pair are expected to discuss Britain’s fractious post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, which overshadowed discussions at the G7.

Checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under a protocol, signed separately from the Brexit trade deal agreed in December, has proven a particular point of contention between London and other European capitals.

Merkel has led the charge for the 27-member bloc to quarantine travellers from Britain and stop the spread on the continent of a more transmissible Delta variant strain of the coronavirus first identified in India.

AFP