Devastating fires in Portugal; torrential rains in Switzerland, Austria and Romania; drought in much of France – the list of extreme weather conditions continues to grow in Europe.
No contrast is more vivid than scenes of uncontrolled forest fires raging across almost the entire northern half of Portugal and the streets of Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and other Swiss cities under a meter (3 feet) of water. Le Temps, a Swiss daily wrote, “Three days of incessant rain has caused huge damage in the center and the east of Switzerland.” Experts say the country hasn’t seen this sort of rainfall for almost 20 years.
In Portugal, where 36 fires have burned out of control for over a week in over 90° (C.36°) weather, calls have gone out for assistance. The fires have left at least 15 dead and 140,000 hectares (346,000 acres) destroyed, mostly in central and northern Portugal. One of the largest fires continues to threaten towns and villages around the historic city of Coimbra.
The EU and individual countries are sending as much help as they can. Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have all sent specially equipped planes and helicopters to help fight the fires. Local authorities have declared a national emergency and are urging employers to release workers from their jobs to act as volunteer fire fighters.
In Romania at least 16 people have died in severe storms and flooding which have hit the country over the past week. More than 1,400 people have been forced to leave their homes across the country. Widespread damages to property and infrastructure have been reported. The floods are the worst to hit the country in many years.
It’s too early to assess how much economic damage and insured losses may be caused by these differing catastrophes, but they will be substantial. According to figures from Munich Re, the drought and heat wave that hit Europe in 2003 killed more than 20,000 people and caused over $13 billion in economic losses. The floods that hit Southern France that year resulted in $1.5 billion in economic losses and over $1 billion in insured losses.
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