While temperatures drop, many of the homes damaged by the summer’s fatal floods in Belgium remain uninhabitable.
Damage to some houses is too great and the construction work needed to make them habitable would take too long, according to reporting from Le Soir. In the meantime, people risk either going without a home for the holidays or going without heat.
Disaster victims who have remained in their homes are often living on the first floor because the ground floor is still too water-damaged. But while main gas lines have largely been repaired, boilers are still missing in many places after being broken during the floods.
In Theux in the province of Liège, the town centre is still marked by the floods and the majority of shops remain closed.
“The central heating was recently restored at the municipal administration, but not yet at the welfare centre, the Cultural Centre and the Tourist Office,” Alexandre Lodez, president of the OCMW (welfare centre), told Le Soir. “So we are still running on electric heaters.”
The electric heaters make a difference but aren’t optimal. Each heater can only warm one room, and not a large one, either. Beyond that, they consume significant amounts of energy.
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“We have distributed about a hundred of these devices and a few pellet stoves, which are more expensive at the outset, but with auxiliary heaters, there is a fear that they will not be able to keep up with the demand,” said Lodez.
“Electricity bills will rise. Our PCSW expects to see people with regularisation bills. The boiler would therefore be the best solution because town gas works 100 percent in Theux, even if the prices have risen recently.”
Federal funds to help flood victims have been distributed, some of which will go to providing heaters. Donations from service clubs and individuals, along with purchases from municipal governments, have also helped.
But there are still gaps and even people who’ve already been helped by insurance companies are running into new problems. Some flood damage only appears with delay: while one family may have had a quick assessment on home repairs and received funding for a new boiler, dampness beneath the floors that had previously gone unnoticed is now rendering it unusable.
Many homes have underfloor heating conducted via pipes, which homeowners might not have realized were damaged in the floods.
Service organisations and the Belgian Red Cross remain active in flood-stricken areas. Dozens of associations have offered heaters to victims in recent weeks, including the Rotary Attert-Sûre-Semois and the Luxembourg Solidaire group, which works more than 100 km away from the Vesdre disaster victims.
“Heating equipment and household appliances were donated for almost €35,000, after field visits twice a week to assess the needs in Ensival, Trooz, Colfontaine, Verviers, Pépinster and Chênée,” the group's president, Joseph Haan, told Le Soir.
“The needs are still enormous. We have helped 100 families directly, but we will continue as long as donations allow us to do so.”
Taking matters into their own hands
One flood victim chose to handle the repairs of his home himself in order to get it down quickly. “The day after the flood, I contacted my heating engineer because my boiler had been flooded,” explained Michel Pirnay, a pensioner.
“It was installed in mid-August. I didn't wait for an expert who came just 100 days after 14 July, and I was right to ask for a second expert – my son got in a bit later and there is currently a shortage of boilers. So, I don't regret it, even if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket.”
Pirnay highlighted the work still to be done as winter draws closer: “The dehumidifier, which is switched on two or three times a week, still pumps two buckets each time. But I'm comfortable with the heating. I'm going day by day, non-stop.”
Another flood victim, Jeanine, waited days for the utility operator to “unseal” her meter after installing a new boiler.
“I sent emails, I phoned, but they didn't answer. I don't understand. I have a new boiler, Vinçotte has given me the go-ahead and... I couldn't get access to the gas,” said Jeanine. “To tell the truth, I sometimes went outside to get warmer!”