Belgians face up to demolition of homes ravaged by summer floods

An August 2021 photo shows a building destroyed by heavy rainfall in Pepinster, Belgium.
An August 2021 photo shows a building destroyed by heavy rainfall in Pepinster, Belgium.PHOTO: REUTERS

PEPINSTER, BELGIUM (REUTERS) - Authorities began demolishing homes on Thursday (Sept 30) in the Belgian town worst-hit by summer floods that killed 41 people, part of a €1.2 billion (S$1.8 billion) reconstruction plan.

The devastating floods in eastern Belgium in July were the most destructive in living memory, turning streets into rivers, ripping up roads and collapsing houses in a shock to a wealthy country that had until now largely escaped the worst effects of climate change.

For Camille Brisbois, 74, the pain of seeing yellow hydraulic excavators destroy red-brick houses was all the greater since the home of his birth was also set for demolition.

"The situation is for me a difficult one from a sentimental and emotional point of view," he said, in the once popular tourist town of Pepinster in the rural Belgian Ardennes region.

While the destruction wrought by the floods in Belgium was not as great as in neighbouring Germany, for local communities cut off in the French-speaking Walloon region, south of the Belgian capital Brussels, the damage has been enormous.

"Water is still not drinkable. Electricity comes back little by little and we are still waiting for gas. Winter is coming and we need heating and stoves. We're asking for it and we're looking for it," said Pepinster resident and Red Cross volunteer Aurore Engelen.

Pepinster's mayor, Philippe Godin, said a €1.2 billion loan from the federal government was a lifeline for the recovery.

"We have a lot of infrastructure that has suffered... Whether it is the banks, the bridges... whether it is the sewers, we still have a lot of work to do. It will take years," he told Reuters.