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Southern Germany hit by catastrophic flooding

Published June 1, 2024last updated June 1, 2024

The southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have been inundated, causing dam bursts and prompting dramatic rescues. States of emergency have been declared in several areas with more heavy rain expected.

A vehicle parked near a flooded stretch of road, in the distance another vehicle almost totally submerged, and an overpass
Authorities have warned residents not to attempt to drive or walk through flooded areas and to avoid basements, underground parking structures and tunnelsImage: Bernd Feil/MiS/IMAGO

Residents in the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have been urged to exercise extreme caution Saturday as dramatic evacuations take place across the region.

So far, states of emergency have been declared in several districts and the German Weather Service (DWD) has issued severe weather warnings in more than 10 districts, with forecasts for more heavy rain over the next 24-48 hours.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called on citizens in the affected area to pay attention to authorities' instructions and take them seriously.

"Timely warnings can save lives. Thank you to everyone who is working tirelessly to help!" she said.

Faeser also shared a post on X, formerly Twitter, by the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) saying some 525 of its volunteers were working to bring people to safety in southern and southeastern Germany.

The Bundeswehr, Germany's army, also said it was providing support to relief efforts, by bringing supplies and distributing blankets and camp beds.

Widespread disruption

Train service between the Bavarian capital Munich and Bregenz, Austria, as well as Zurich, Switzerland, were canceled Saturday. Train travel between Munich and Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, was detoured, and services between Ulm and Augsburg were also affected.

A 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) stretch of the A3 Autobahn near Bavarian Regensburg was also shut down in both directions Saturday afternoon when water from nearby fields began flooding the road. 

In Augsburg, Bavaria, a dyke and a dam both burst, prompting emergency evacuations.

In Fischach, west of Munich, emergency services workers had to rescue residents stranded in their homes with helicopters when the local Schmutter River flooded. Other districts saw rescuers arriving in boats as floodwaters made roads impassable.

The ADAC automobile association — best known for its roadside assistance and flight for life services — on Saturday said that all of its helicopters in southern Germany were currently in use assisting evacuation and rescue efforts.

Air-rescue Services Director Jochen Oesterle said helicopters from northern Germany were en route to the south as well, where he said, "we will be deploying our experienced crews."

Flooded streets in the village of Fischach, Bavaria
As floodwaters rise, authorities have ordered residents to evacuate, saying it is no longer safe to seek shelter in the upper floors and attics of homes Image: Michael Bihlmayer/Bihlmayerfotografie/IMAGO

Thousands told to evacuate

Evacuations in the region began Friday evening, with an apartment building in Lindau, Bavaria, emptied as a precautionary measure. Water had made its way into the building, a spokeswoman for the city said, increasing the risk of an electrical short-circuit.

Residents from the building were then bussed to a nearby gymnasium where they spent the night.

In the Lake Constance district of Baden-Württemberg some 1,300 people were also asked to leave their homes due to the risk of flooding.

In the city of Memmingen authorities were forced to evacuate a state prison after plumbing began to back up as floodwaters seeped into the complex. Prison services said roughly 100 prisoners from the facility — 80 men and 20 women — had been temporarily taken to nearby penitentiaries in Landsberg, Kempten and Aichach, noting that it could be weeks before they return to Memmingen.

Authorities in Diedorf, near Augsburg, told residents that it was no longer enough for them to simply move to the upper floors of their homes, ordering them to leave as floodwaters continued to rise.

Half-submerged vehicles, several people, a small herd of cows and a tractor are seen on a flooded street in the Bavarian village of Günz
No weather for man nor beast: farmers and emergency workers make their way through Günz, Bavaria, as they attempt to move livestock to higher ground Image: Bernd März/IMAGO

In Wiesensteig, Baden-Württemberg, residents were ordered to boil water before consumption after floodwaters overwhelmed local water treatment facilities.

Fire departments across southern Germany urged residents in affected areas to avoid basements, underground parking facilities and tunnels as well as advising against attempting to drive or walk through flooded areas.

Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder on Saturday said the "extremely strenuous" situation was "far from over. It's just starting." Söder thanked emergency services workers from the police, Red Cross, fire departments and beyond, saying, "without these helpers we would be lost." He also implored citizens to "follow the rules." 

Though Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg were most directly affected, with heavy rains and thunderstorms continuing on Saturday, the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia also began experiencing inclement weather with heavy rain in the forecast. Several major events in the area were canceled as a precaution.

js,rmt/kb,ab (AFP, dpa)