PEPINSTER, Belgium (AP) – Paul and Madeline Brasseur were at home with their two sons in the Belgian town of Pepinster when the water “suddenly arrived” late in the evening.
Paul Brasseur, 42, said it was “like a tsunami”.
The family went upstairs and continued to seek safety into the night as the water rose slowly below them. They ended up on the roof, watching.
“We started to see buildings collapsing, people on roofs, buildings collapsing, falling into the water,” Brasseur said.
In the end, when they went from terrace to terrace, they had to sit on one with 15 others, waiting for hours for help. A boat arrives to rescue the children, but it begins to refuel while a makeshift pier begins to collapse. Brasseur kept his sons.
“We held out for those nine hours,” says Brasseur, who has lived in Pepinster since the age of 10. . “
More than 180 people in Belgium and Germany did not survive the massive floods that swept through parts of Western Europe on Wednesday and Thursday. Thousands of people did so, like Brasseurs, finding their homes destroyed or heavily battered.
As floodwaters recede, attention turns to the enormous task of repairing storm damage – and the enormous damage faced by people in affected areas.
In Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, Andreas Wachtveitel spent Saturday clearing debris from his apartment building. The 39-year-old’s home and office were flooded and badly damaged, so he didn’t know what to do next.
“This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” said Wachtveitel, who was covered in mud. “Thank God everyone in our house is still alive, but it’s close.”
The sounds of water flowing into the lower floors of the building and the screams nearby haunted him, he said.
“We heard screaming from the other side,” Wachtveitel said. “There was a clinic and the patients were trapped.”
Franco Romanelli, the owner of Pizzeria Roma in the same town, stands in front of his subsistence restaurant as workers clean up dilapidated furniture.
He said: “It took a long time to build the restaurant to get to the position it is today. “And now after the pandemic, this is dire.”
“We are not talking about a few thousand euros” to repair the damage, he said. “I made a rough calculation; we are talking about a few hundred thousand euros to rebuild this place”.
Romanelli, originally from the Abruzzo region of Italy, came to Ahrweiler in 1979 at the age of 15. He said the extent of the damage in his adopted home was severe.
“If I looked at Ahrweiler now, I might cry,” he said. “This is my house.”
In the Netherlands, thousands of people evacuated from threatened areas on Thursday and Friday began returning home to survey the damage on Saturday.
In Brommelen, in the southern Netherlands, Wiel de Bie found his basement completely flooded. De Bie, 75, has carefully collected decades’ worth of old magazines, photographs and important documents. They were all in his basement; what has not completely disappeared will be waterlogged and destroyed.
“Apart from the emotional value that I find more important, the magazines, the radio news from 1960 to 1997 all disappeared,” he said, picking up a dripping copy of a magazine from 1924 as he pumped the water out of the basement.
Down the road, the Kant family’s car was still partially submerged. A single rubber boot floats in their flooded garden. Professor Ijmert Kant, 62, said he was grateful for their safety. However, he added, the task of clearing debris and repairing their home was daunting.
“It is all material. Nothing happened. Everyone has been spared, and I mean it,” Kan said, “But I don’t expect trouble, “How do you fix this? How does it work with insurance? ‘”
In Belgium, Brasseur celebrated his 42nd birthday on Saturday. Things may not turn out the way he expected, but the important thing is that his family is safe and together, he said.
“My gift for today,” Brasseurhe said, her voice cracking, “is that my family and all the friends we used to be with are still alive.”
Emily Schultheis reports from Berlin. Christoph Noelting of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, and Bram Janssen of Brommelen, Netherlands, contributed to this report.
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