Clean up affected municipalities, restore electricity, quantify damage: the titanic task began after deadly floods in Western Europe, including Germany, where the balance was further boosted on Saturday.
A total of at least 153 people were killed in these rare-scale floods, which also killed Belgium and caused damage in Luxembourg as well as the Netherlands.
Germany pays the highest price, with at least 133 deaths, according to a new police report on Saturday.
But the toll could be much heavier over the hours. “More deaths should be feared,” said local police in Koblenz, Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the hardest hit regions in the west of the country.
In this German state alone, authorities also recorded “about 618 injuries.”
Residents who were able to take refuge on Wednesday night, when the floods began, are gradually returning to their homes.
Scenes of desolation await them: destroyed houses, torn down trees, overturned cars, collapsed roads and bridges, cut nets.
“48 hours was a nightmare, we shoot here, but there’s nothing we can do,” explains Cornelia Schlösser, reflecting on the sad state of the family bakery in the village of Schuld, sunk in the waves.
“Within minutes, the wave was in the house,” Fifty-something told AFP.
In all affected areas, firefighters, civil protection, municipal officials, soldiers – some driving tanks – have begun a colossal job of cleaning up and clearing the piles of sludge that often clog the streets.
– Donations and collections –
“The task is immeasurable,” admitted the mayor of Solingen, a town in the southern Ruhr area.
The scale of the disaster is just beginning to emerge.
We need to pump water, assess the solidity of damaged buildings, some of which will have to be demolished, electricity, gas, telephones rebuilt and people who lost everything will be housed.
Disruption of communication networks, which makes many people unavailable, complicates any quantification of the number of missing.
Authorities remain vigilant. A dam on the Rour River, a tributary of the Meuse, broke in the Heinsberg district of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday night, leading to the evacuation of 700 people.
“We have to assume we will find other victims,” predicted Carolin Weitzl, mayor of Erfstadt, not far from Cologne, where a huge landslide took away land and houses.
Head of State Frank-Walter Steinmeier planned to visit this devastated city on Saturday.
The government has announced that it is working on establishing a special aid fund, when the damage is expected to reach several billion euros.
Solidarity is also being organized, appeals for donations have been launched across the country, local collections, financial support promised by large companies, such as carmaker Volkswagen.
The damage is “so great that it will keep us under occupation for a long time,” warned Rhine-Palatinate leader Mala Drayer, while her North Rhine-Westphalia counterpart Armin Laschet spoke of “disaster. Historical greatness.”
– “Unprecedented” –
The leader of the conservative CDU party, candidate for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor and a favorite in the polls for the September 26 parliamentary elections, Mr Laschet demanded, like the entire political class, “speed up the process. Pace” in the fight against climate change.
The disaster is “changing the election campaign”, putting the issue of climate at the center of discussions, the Spiegel newspaper says.
Angela Merkel, returning from a visit to the United States, plans to visit the flood site soon.
In western Germany, which crosses the Rhine axis, these are mostly small rivers, little protected, which suddenly emerged from their beds under the action of floods in the form of floods, attacking dozens of populated areas often built in flood zones.
If the rain has to stop this weekend in the most affected regions, hundreds of people were still evacuated on Friday night, after a dam burst in the Cologne region.
In Belgium, as the water recedes, “we will probably still find catastrophic situations,” Liège Mayor Christine Defraigne judged.
There is a tragedy in this country in which at least 20 people are dead and twenty are missing, according to a still provisional estimate, “unprecedented,” said Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, who declared Tuesday a day of national mourning. Mr De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected in the affected regions on Saturday.
burs-smk-fcz / ylf / lch