Some 50 people who were still presumed missing this morning following the floods last week have been contacted in the meantime, announced Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a Consultative Committee press conference.
Before announcing the latest decisions of the Committee, De Croo gave an update on the current state of affairs regarding the search for missing people.
"Today, we know that we have lost 31 people, and we know that there are still 70 people of whom we have no news," he said. "That number has dropped by 50 in the last few hours."
Several hours earlier on Monday morning, 127 people were still "presumed missing or unaccounted for" at the time, according to the National Crisis Centre.
The Director-General of the National Crisis Centre Bart Raeymaekers stated earlier on Monday that the word "presumed" is important, as many people lost their phone or do not have electricity to charge it.
Network problems due to the water are also still preventing people from contacting others, and a number of people were also admitted to hospital without identification.
"In the last few hours, 50 people who were thought to be missing have been contacted," De Croo said. "That's rather hopeful news."
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Additionally, Alain Remue of the Missing Persons Unit said on Flemish radio that it was "very positive that [they] were able to take at least 50 people off the missing persons list. Last night, I would never have dared hope for that."
"Let us hope that the remaining 70 missing are safe, but we have to be realistic," he said. "We are still expecting more casualties. The fewer, the better of course."
A search with sniffer dogs was carried out in two places on Monday, but Remue stressed that this will be a "very long process."
"We are now talking about months. We have never seen this, certainly not in our own country," he said. "I remember many situations where help was sent abroad, but we could never have imagined that this would happen to us."
Remue also explicitly advised people not to help search for victims, as the circumstances are so dangerous that the authorities only work with professionals.
"There are other ways to contribute, such as donating to the Red Cross, helping make lunch boxes, collecting food and household items, among other things," he added.
Tomorrow is a national day of mourning, announced De Croo.
"We will reflect for a minute on what has happened to us, and on the human suffering that lies behind the numbers we so often talk about," he added.