Deadly German floods were predictable, UK flood expert says

A satellite view shows the city of Liers affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls, Germany July 18, 2021.

A satellite view shows the city of Liers affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls, Germany July 18, 2021. (Maxar Technologies via Reuters)

BERLIN — Floods in western Germany that killed more than 160 people last week were predictable, a flood expert in Britain said on Monday.

"I was very surprised really at the scale of the deaths and destruction because from my point of view it looked like we could forecast this event coming," Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at Reading University, said in an interview.

The high death toll has raised questions around why so many seemed to have been surprised by the flash flooding. German opposition politicians have suggested it revealed serious failings in the country's flood preparedness.

"Something is going wrong in the communication chain of these warnings ... and people don't really understand the risk they're in perhaps, and so we all need to work very much harder to make sure this never happens again," Cloke said.

"I could see this information at the beginning of the week and it looked very serious, it looked like a very worrying flood."

Facing criticism of the government's response to flooding threats, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said earlier on Monday it was up to local authorities to issue flood warnings because they have the necessary local knowledge.

Torrential downpours turned placid creeks in small communities into roaring rivers that swept up cars and caused several houses to collapse. Some survivors said they barely escaped as water rushed into their homes, knocking them off their feet.

"It might be that people were surprised by the seriousness of the event and perhaps they couldn't imagine such an event coming," Cloke said.

"Also perhaps the local authorities didn't have the experience of this magnitude of event, and that suggests they don't have the resources and the support that they need to adequately assess the risk from flooding."

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Lucy Marks


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