Europe floods: Inside the unprepared city that ‘has to change’ after devastation leaves lives in ruin

Verviers is nicknamed the water capital of its region because the city used the River Meuse to build its wealth in the textile industry.

The river flows through the centre of the Belgian town.

That’s why there was so much damage when it exploded over its banks a few days ago, turning the streets into torrents of water flowing several metres deep.

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The city, like so many others, simply wasn’t prepared.

As Verviers residents wearily clean the stinking mud out of their ruined homes, thoughts are turning to the fragility of the infrastructure that supports life here; how quickly all the fabric of our modern world was ripped apart.

In the worst-affected parts of the city there is still no power, no cabled internet, patchy mobile phone signal, and in some areas, no fresh water.

Many of the roads and bridges are shut, and the pavements are piled high with rubbish.

Nameer Laghzaoui takes us into his ruined pizza shop. Piles of gluey flour line the floor. He shows us the basement – all his wiring and fuse boxes sit, dripping.

He said: “It is all gone. Ruined.”

I ask if he wants to go, move further away from the water.

“No, I will stay, I have to.”

His whole life savings are in this business, and he has no choice but to wait for insurance to pay out and hope it doesn’t happen again.

A few metres away we find Louis Pirout working hard to find out just how badly the town’s power supply and wiring has been damaged.

His job is to restore TV services

Was the town ready, I asked?

“No. Absolutely not.

“We are a crowded town around the river which is why it was so bad.”

He doesn’t know how long it will take to get everything back on line.

There are huge holes in the pavements everywhere, exposing mangled pipes and cabling. It doesn’t look like a quick job.

Up and down the streets there are people delivering bottles of fresh water.

One of the reasons for that is businesses nearby aren’t open to sell anything.

We ventured into an all but destroyed supermarket to find the owner, Francoise Wilmain, surveying the damage.

He cannot see how he will be able to reopen.

“It was my business, my life, it is finished.”

On one street closest to the river Meuse a huge clean up is underway. Mountains of furniture, pots, books pile high under the hot sun as people salvage what they can.

Valerie Corman told us how she thought the city didn’t give them enough warning.

She said: “The city is going to have to change.”

She also said that she hopes during the rebuilding process, they find a way to create better flood defences, so if it happens again, the damage won’t be so great.

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