As communities devastated by the catastrophic flooding in parts of western Europe start picking up the pieces, they are wondering how it all went so wrong, so fast. After all, Europe has a world-leading warning system that issued regular alerts for days before floods engulfed entire villages.
But at least 200 people still died in Germany and Belgium, in floods that came quickly and forcefully. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service said it sent more than 25 warnings for specific regions of the Rhine and Maas river basins in the days leading up to the flooding, through its European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), well before heavy rains triggered the flash flooding.
But few of these early warnings appear to have been passed on to residents early — and clearly — enough, catching them completely off guard. Now questions are being raised over whether the chain of communication from the central European level to regions is working. “There was clearly a serious breakdown in communication, which in some cases has tragically cost people’s lives,” said Jeff Da Costa, a PhD researcher in hydrometeorology at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.
Da Costa focuses on flood warning systems in his research, and his own parents’ home in Luxembourg happened to be hit over the weekend. He said the experiences of the past week show there is often a gap between the weather warnings scientists issue and the actions actually taken by people in charge on the ground. Some of the warnings — including in Luxembourg — were only issued after the flood had hit, he said. “People, including my own family, were left to their own devices without any indication on what to do, and giving them no opportunity to prepare themselves,” he said.