Weather scientists say a ‘monumental failure of the system’ is directly to blame for the death and devastation triggered by a month’s worth of rain that fell in two days this week
Over the next few days a team of scientists sent the German authorities a series of forecasts so accurate that they now read like a macabre prophecy: the Rhineland was about to be hit by “extreme” flooding, particularly along the Erft and Ahr rivers, and in towns such as Hagen and Altena.
Yet despite at least 24 hours’ warning that predicted, almost precisely, which districts would be worst afflicted when the rains came, the flood still caught many of its victims largely unawares.
Germany got its preparations “badly wrong”, one of the experts who built Europe’s sophisticated flood prediction model told The Sunday Times. Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at Reading University, said that a “monumental failure of the system” had led to one of postwar Germany’s deadliest natural disasters, which had by last night claimed at least 133 lives since Wednesday and left hundreds of people unaccounted for. At least another 24 people were dead across the border in Belgium, a figure that the country’s national crisis centre expected to rise, while the rains forced thousands from their homes in the Netherlands.
On Tuesday and Wednesday parts of Germany were deluged with more than a month’s worth of rain in 48 hours. Some tributaries of the Rhine swelled to record levels, turning cities into lakes of mud, sweeping away buildings and bridges, and drowning dozens of people in their homes.
“When I woke up [on Thursday] morning and saw how many people had died, I just thought: you can do better than this,” said Cloke. “I’m disappointed that particularly in the cities you had people washed away. That suggests that lots of things are going badly wrong.
“People should have been receiving warnings; people should have understood the warnings. It’s no use having massive computer models predicting what’s going to happen if people don’t know what to do in a flood.”
Instead, the overwhelming majority of people in the path of the floods carried on with their everyday lives, oblivious to the danger, as the waters began to rise.
The German government is now facing questions about how many lives might have been saved had it evacuated the danger zones in time and properly conveyed the gravity of the impending crisis to the public. As Bild, the country’s bestselling newspaper, put it: “Did our disaster protection agency fail?”
via The Global Warming Policy Forum
July 18, 2021 at 03:09AM