Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
High waters have already killed 10 and caused havoc in France, Germany, and Austria—and the emergency isn’t over yet.
France’s President Hollande declared a state of natural disaster Thursday, as the death toll from floods sweeping much of Europe reached 10 casualties. After an exceptionally wet few days where some regions received several months’ worth of rain within a few hours, France, Germany, Austria and Belgium have all seen high waters and burst river banks, causing floods that have blocked roads, inundated towns and cut power supplies. Rural areas have been among the worst hit, notably the banks of the river Inn that divide Germany and Austria and the Loiret Department around the city of Orléans, southeast of Paris. Within France, the floods’ epicenter now seems to be moving closer to the French capital.
The mixed suburban and rural Seine-et-Marne department is on red alert and has already witnessed a casualty, an 86-year-old woman discovered drowned in her home in the department’s rural south. Just to the north, the ex-urban city of Nemours has been effectively separated into two unbridgeable sections by floodwater. Within Paris itself, the Seine is at a level of just over 5 meters, causing several quayside streets, metro and RER stations to be closed off.
In Southern Germany, casualties and levels of damage have proved yet worse. In the Bavarian border town of Simbach am Inn a woman, her daughter and granddaughter were discovered dead after being trapped in their own basement. In nearby Julbach, a 75-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman were washed away from their homes, the latter subsequently discovered dead in a stream a kilometer away.
A further four people have lost their lives in the Southwestern province of Baden-Württemberg, including a firefighter on a rescue mission and a 13-year-old swept away while sheltering from rain under a railway bridge. Videos and photos taken during the floods show the incredible force of the flood waters, with sections of road swept away by torrents and cars tossed around with terrifying force.
While the loss of life and general damage caused by the floods is already severe, the heavy rains that made the rivers swell show no signs of abating just yet. The Seine continues to rise in Paris, where the waters are not expected to reach their high point until Friday afternoon. The Louvre Museum closed this morning and will remain closed Friday to allow the precautionary evacuation of some artworks at potential risk from the floods. Meanwhile in Germany, as the flood waters remain high, emergency services in Southeastern Bavaria are continuing to deliver emergency supplies, using a staff that at highpoint of the crisis has numbered 10,000. The poor weather is set to continue in a broad arc stretching across Europe from the Atlantic to Ukraine, and according to BBC forecasters will be:
“Long-lasting with large hailstones, frequent lightning, gusty winds and flash flooding with as much as 50mm (2 in) of rain in some parts in just a few hours.”
The forecast provides an ominous but necessary warning. The emergency is far from over, and many areas of Europe could be due for further destruction before the weather clears.