© Domingos Oliveira
Floods are a natural occurrence, and can happen anytime. But what can we do to stay informed and prevent excess damage? What should you keep in mind when living in a risk zone? Here's an overview with expert advice from the Water Management Authority, CGDIS and Red Cross.
The floods that rocked Luxembourg and neighbouring countries last week were "unprecedented" and the "worst floods in over 100 years", Christine Bastian of the Water Management Authority said on Monday morning in a press conference.
15 of Luxembourg's 41 measuring stations recorded historically high water levels never before seen in the Grand Duchy on Thursday, following the exceptional amount of rainfall last week. 10 stations recorded the highest water levels in a century: 105.7 litres per square metre of rainfall was measured at one station.
But if they were to happen again, and sooner, how could one prepare?
Awareness and preparation are key
"The most important thing is to know and be aware that you live in a flood risk zone", explains Bastian. To find out, visit the website Geoportal.lu, which allows users to see flood hazard maps and check whether their particular area is at risk. Furthermore, the site inondations.lu tracks real-time water discharge in and around several cities in Luxembourg. Another resource is meteolux.lu, the national weather agency.
In normal times, the GouvAlert App will also notify users of any risks in the area or country, but water levels rose at such a quick pace this time that it made it extremely difficult to predict and consequently issue exact warnings. Also, users can contact emergency services (112) directly via the app, which will automatically include a geo-tag so that responders can locate the caller as quick as possible.
The map below shows Geoportail's flood hazard map of 2021, with light blue indicating "low probability" of flooding, and dark blue indicating "high probability".
The government has also published a document with emphasis on how to protect your house against flooding and what to keep an eye on when planning/constructing a house. It even lists building materials and their level of resistance against floods. The document is available for download in English and German.
The second flood risk management plan was published on 24 June. Citizens and municipalities can read through the preliminary report and, if necessary, comment on it. Citizens have until 24 September to provide feedback and submit comments - these will then be analysed and discussed by the working group.
Before a flood
Have an emergency first aid kit at the ready, as well as put your most important documents in one file so that, when necessary, it can be picked up quickly if you have to move. This will include health documents, passports, insurance papers, car registration, bank details, tax documents or a marriage certificate. Move valuables and hazardous materials higher up, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recommends.
Vehicle fuel tanks should be full, and it is advised that small supplies such as sandbags and plastic sheeting are stored at home. Have extra drinking water at home, as this can quickly become contaminated and switched off.
It is advised to take pictures of your house or apartment and make a basic inventory list for your insurance company. Should there ever be a flood, before and after pictures will help insurers estimate the damage when processing a claim.
Then there is the ability to administer first aid. "Of course, following first-aid classes help people or enterprises save lives", explains Caroline Fréchard of the Luxembourg Red Cross. It offers these courses to companies.
In terms of information, tune in to the radio, TV, follow news online and check social media.
During a flood
If the threat of rising water is imminent, switch off electricity in all rooms that may be at risk to incoming water. Turn off heaters, gas or oil. Ensure that the oil tank is sufficiently secured. Once a flood has passed, first contact an electrician to check on your installations before turning them back on. If the water has already reached the basement, stay away at all times.
Limiting openings may slow down the entry of water, so shutting doors to individual rooms can help.
Collect your most important documents, a sleeping bag, wellies, a flashlight and any medicine you may need. Should you have a power bank, make sure it's charged when the initial warnings are being sent. This will allow you to keep your phone charged even if power is cut, and inform close relatives and friends of your location when evacuating. The CGDIS also recommend packing batteries, a change of warm clothes and food items.
Move your car out of the risk zone if the situation is safe, and if you're evacuating a city, do not drive through flooded streets.
Lastly, remember that human life is more valuable than material things. Check on your neighbours and close friends to see if they are okay.