A new report by the British newspaper “The Sunday Times” explains how a satellite in low Earth orbit detected the first signs of danger days before the German floods unfolded. Somewhere along the chain of command, climate scientists to government officials to local officials informing residents in affected regions about the need to evacuate ahead of extreme weather broke down and has tragically resulted in the country’s worst natural disaster in six decades.
On Sunday morning, the death toll stood at 184. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the flooding in the western part of the country as devastating and “terrifying” as deaths are expected to rise as water levels recede.
“It is terrifying,” Merkel told residents of the small town of Adenau in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. “The German language can barely describe the devastation that’s taken place.”
Ahead of the flooding, which began Tuesday/Wednesday, climate scientists warned the German government that a significant weather event would dump torrential rains and would trigger “extreme” flooding, particularly along some parts of Erft Ahr, and Rhine rivers, and in towns such as Hagen and Altena.
Germany got its preparations “badly wrong,” climate scientists told The Times. Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at Reading University, said that a “monumental failure of the system” had led to one Germany’s deadliest natural disasters in six decades.
Some cities and towns on the Rhine River were inundated with floodwaters, sweeping away commercial and resident buildings, destroying infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and telecommunications equipment, as well as drowning more than one hundred people.
“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.”
Many people disregarded the warnings and continued to live their everyday lives as rivers in western Germany continued to rise, eventually, in some areas, hitting record-high highs and spilled over into towns.
The Federal Office for Citizen Protection and Disaster Assistance issued warnings to a tiny fraction of the public who downloaded the app on their smartphones. Many along the river were taken by surprise by the freak natural disaster.
“The fact that people didn’t evacuate or get the warnings suggests that something is going wrong,” Cloke said. “If you’ve got some information about what risk you’re at and you can understand it, you can take action to protect yourself. These floods were huge. Probably they were like a fantasy or a kind of science-fiction movie for people.”
German tabloid newspaper “Bild” asked if the country’s “disaster protection agency failed.”
Many questions are swirling around the German government and how they could’ve been more proactive and conveyed the gravity of the impending dangerous floods, which were predicted by climate scientists well in advance.
Floods on Sunday afternoon have receded in western states of Germany, including Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia. Now comes the hard part, where rescuers will continue search and rescue efforts.
As per The Times, climate scientists gave the German government an advanced warning on July 10 before the floods hit on July 13/14.
The question remains: Will Merkel’s critics grow louder as government warning systems failed?