Angleur (Belgium) (AFP)
It could take months to dissipate after the worst floods in modern Belgian history – and some local landmarks in the Liège suburb of Angleur might never be the same again.
Clouds cleared on Saturday two days after a vast torrent of muddy water swept through the area, overturning cars and pouring into shops and schools.
But the future of the neighborhood, after what Prime Minister Alexander de Croo called an unprecedented disaster, is not bright.
“We will probably still find more catastrophic situations,” said Christine Defraigne, senior Liège official, as police went door-to-door and the official death toll rose.
Angleur sits on the southeastern edge of Belgium’s fourth largest city, near where the Ourthe River plunges into the mighty Meuse, known as the Meuse when it reaches Dutch territory downstream, and drains a vast tact of southern hills.
The region’s narrow valleys are heavily populated and built up, so they were quickly overwhelmed by a week of intense rain, which experts have linked to the global climate crisis.
Questions will be asked about Belgium’s preparation, warnings from meteorologists seem to have gone unheeded and the waters were already high when Liège ordered but did not impose a partial evacuation.
But the citizens of Angleur have more immediate concerns.
At the neighborhood nursery school, Sophie Djokalaj is on the verge of tears. After a year of coronavirus disruption, she was eager to welcome her class of two to four year olds in September.
“There is so much work. I hope we can open after the summer,” she sighed, as her daughter and husband helped her start the intimidating cleanup.
Pink and green walls are splashed with mud, shelves and desks have tipped over into hallways, and toys are strewn in the debris.
In the main street, tow trucks pull wrecked cars. Huge holes have opened under the sidewalks, now cordoned off behind orange and white warning barriers.
“Everything is ruined,” said Olivier Saelen, 44, pointing to the mud that turned his front room into a swampy riverbed.
“The water went up in just 15 minutes, but it will take weeks to fix things,” he said, before philosophically noting: “People are still dead, so losing furniture isn’t not the worst thing. “
Two bodies have already been found in Angleur, and not everyone has been found.
“Since yesterday all we’ve heard are sirens and helicopters. Like we need it all, after the pandemic,” said Angela Celliere, 60, wiping standing water from her porch .
– Fuel stench –
Piles of crumbling furniture lean sadly in front of the houses, and the fuel oil pouring into the flooded cellars and into the street fills the air with the stench of diesel fuel.
The municipal librarian Aurélie Nisot was dragging piles of books swollen with humidity and stained with mud.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “A little water in the cellars, but it’s unique.”
A grocery store on an elevated lot was able to open on Saturday, but many local traders were on the verge of despair.
John Theunis runs the Studio 87 hair salon, which owes its vintage spirit to carefully selected furniture.
“I had folding chairs from a 1950s cinema in Liège, and a seat for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels,” the 33-year-old told AFP. “Such a waste.”
© 2021 AFP