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WEATHER

German floods: More than 140 dead as search continues

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 at least 165 people dead and dozens more missing.

German floods: More than 140 dead as search continues
Local residents clean up a damaged street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany after heavy rain hit parts of the country, causing widespread flooding and major damage. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

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 144 four 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.

“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.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit the hard-hit town of Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, her first trip to the flood zones since returning from a White House visit on Friday.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier meanwhile was surveying the damage in Erftstadt in NRW on Saturday, where a landslide was triggered by the floods.

“We are mourning with all those who lost friends, acquaintances or family members,” he said.

Soldiers could be seen wading waist-deep in muddy water in Erftstadt as they attempted to clear the streets and search for victims.

Many cars were still submerged, their doors flung open by those who managed to escape.

“We have broken highways, collapsed bridges, completely broken roads. It may be months, years before life in Erftstadt and the surrounding area resumes as we knew it,” said Elmar Mettke, a spokesman for the local fire service.

At least 98 of the victims lived in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate, Koblenz police said in an updated toll, including 12 residents of a home for the disabled who drowned in the rising waters.

The devastation in Ahrweiler on Saturday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

In neighbouring Belgium, the death toll jumped to 24 with many 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.

‘Immense’ task

A burst dam in Germany’s Heinsberg district 65 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Düsseldorf 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.

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.

READ ALSO: Financial aid pours in for German flood victims

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.

EXPLAINED: How the extreme flooding in Germany is linked to global warming

President 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”.

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WEATHER

‘Clear indication of climate change’: Germany logs warmest year on record

Looking at data from 2,000 measuring systems around Germany, the German Weather Service (DWD) said that 2022 marked the warmest year on record through November.

'Clear indication of climate change': Germany logs warmest year on record

“Never since 1881 has the period from January to November in Germany been so warm as in 2022,” said DWD spokesman Uwe Kirsche in a statement on Wednesday.

The average temperature for the first eleven months of 2022 was 11.3C, according to the weather service in Offenbach. The previous high was set in 2020, at 11.1C for this period. 

The temperature average for autumn alone was 10.8 degrees – an entire 2C degrees higher than it was between 1961 to 1990, which is used by meteorologists around the globe as a point of reference. 

Clear indication of climate change

The period from January to October was already the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 11.8C. For meteorologists, autumn ends with November, whereas in calendar terms, it lasts until December 21st. 

It is “a clear indication of climate change;” that the warmest October months of the last 140 years all fall in this millennium, said DWD.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Autumn 2022 could have easily been mistaken for summer in some regions of Germany, it said. The mercury reached the highest in Kleve on the Lower Rhine on September 5th, where temperatures soared to a sizzling 32.3C.

weather Germany september

Beach goers in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein on September 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Rainy regions

The mild weather extended into November, before temperatures took a dramatic dip in many parts of the country. 

In the Oberharz am Brocken, the mercury dropped all the way to -11.6C on November 20th, the nationwide low for this autumn.

READ ALSO: Germany to see first snowfall after mild November

But despite the early warm spells, autumn was also “slightly wetter than average,” according to DWD. An average of around 205 liters of precipitation per squar metre fell across Germany.

That was about twelve percent more than in the reference period from 1961 to 1990. Compared to 1991 to 2020, the increase was about eight percent.

The Black Forest and the Alps received the most rainfall. Utzenfeld in the southern Black Forest had the highest daily precipitation in Germany with 86 litres per square meter on October 14th. In contrast, it remained very dry in the northeast. 

However, there were also a fair few bright, sunny days for people to enjoy. According to DWD, the sun shone for a good 370 hours this autumn – almost 20 percent more than in the period from 1961 to 1990 and 15 percent more than in the period from 1991 to 2020.

The North German Lowlands saw the most sun, with residents there getting a solid 400 hours of sunshine over autumn. 

Temperatures to drop this week

Just in time for the start of the meteorological winter on December 1st, temperatures will drop significantly into the low negatives in many parts of the country.

On the weekend, there is a risk of permafrost in some regions of eastern Germany. The nights will also become increasingly frosty, with snow expected in many regions by the end of the week.

Roads are expected to turn icy, but with no major snowstorms, said DWD.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?

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