Germany's Dachs battle tank comes to the rescue to clear flood damage

At least 180 people died when severe floods pummelled western Germany over two days in mid-July, raising questions about whether enough was done to warn residents.

Tank clears German flood damage

Dachs pioneer tank, a combat support vehicle of the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) cleared the banks of the Ahr river in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr - Ahrweiler, western Germany after heavy rain and floods caused major damage in the Ahr region.

At least 180 people died when severe floods pummelled western Germany over two days in mid-July, raising questions about whether enough was done to warn residents ahead of time.

People are still missing after torrents of water ripped through entire towns and villages, destroying bridges, roads, railways and swathes of housing.


River water swept through towns and villages

The restoration of power supplies in flood-stricken parts of western Germany has continued but an estimated 5,800 households are still without electricity, the country's biggest local grid company said.

A total 200,000 households were cut off less than two weeks ago after extreme rainfall caused deadly flooding across the region when river water swept through towns and villages.


Flood-hit Germany

Beyond the town, the flooding stretched from an area close to the western city of Cologne down to southern Bavaria, hitting the historic centres of Aachen and Trier and leaving a trail of destruction behind it.

In recent years, other heavy floods have hit other parts of Germany, overflowing the banks of the waterways that have played such a key role in its prosperity.

Those floods have caused tens of billions of euros of damage - a much bigger economic hit than any of Germany's neighbours have suffered from inundations, according to a study by Swiss Re, which insures insurers.


Rhine waterways

In Bad Muenstereifel, the focus was on the immediate damage. As scores of soldiers passed orange buckets of debris and sludge.

Rubbish piles grew bigger as the day wore on. The smells of diesel-fuelled water pumps and dust polluted the air. A crushed car lay lodged sideways in the narrow river.

The images have shocked Germany, prompting a debate ahead of national elections that could loosen the hold on power of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and bolster the Green party.

Much of Germany's industry, including metals giant Thyssen Krupp and chemicals giants Bayer and BASF, developed in centres close to waterways such as the Rhine - which was also impacted in the recent flooding.

The network of rivers and canals remains the most extensive in Europe and is used to move around 200 million tonnes of freight each year, from grain to coal and oil. But it is fast becoming a threat.

These were the third major floods to hit Germany since the turn of the century.


Costliest ever flood damage

In 2002, the Elbe river flooded, affecting Dresden and other cities. In 2013, floods hit Bavaria hard along the Danube and Inn rivers.

Damage for both years totalled 42 billion euros, and less than a quarter of it was insured, according to Swiss Re.

July's floods are set to be Germany's costliest ever, according to the German Insurance Association, which estimated claims alone at up to 5 billion euros.

The total cost, with torn roads, train tracks and phone lines, already seen in the billions, will far outstrip that.


Tonnes of wreckage strewn across German towns

Amid the stench and fear of disease, the country that pioneered modern waste management is struggling to cope with the tens of thousands of tonnes of wreckage strewn across the towns and villages of its western Rhinelands after the heaviest 24-hour deluge on record.

Germany pioneered modern waste management in the 1970s, introducing the concept of separating rubbish to go for recycling, incineration or into landfill.

Yet the sheer amount of trash is far more than the waste-management industry can cope with. Construction firms and farmers are helping to shift wreckage, but with storage facilities full up, temporary dumps are having to be found.

The cathedral city of Cologne, the state's largest city with a population of more than a million, has issued an appeal on Facebook for help to clear "unimaginable quantities" of trash.


'Something to do with climate change'

Red Cross volunteers and emergency services in Germany deployed emergency stand-pipes and mobile vaccination vans to flood-devastated regions attempting to avert a public health emergency.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe's largest economy must get better and faster in tackling the impact of climate change after record floods caused the country's worst natural disaster in nearly six decades.

"The sum of all events that we are witnessing in Germany and the forces with which they occur all suggest ... that it has something to do with climate change," she told residents of Adenau in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

"We have to hurry, we have to get faster in the fight against climate change."


Catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters

In Europe, climate change is likely to increase the number of large, slow-moving storms that can linger longer in one area and deliver deluges of the kind seen in Germany and Belgium, according to a study.

As the atmosphere warms with climate change, it also holds more moisture, which means that when rainclouds break, more rain is released. By the end of the century, such storms could be 14 times more frequent, the researchers found in the study using computer simulations.

While the inundation that devastated wide swathes of western and southern Germany occurred thousands of kilometres from the events in Henan, both cases highlighted the vulnerability of heavily populated areas to catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters.


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