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Chocolate factory is latest victim of Belgian floods

Chaudfontaine during the floods. Credit: Municipality of Chaudfontaine

The deadly floods which ravaged many areas of Belgium in the last weeks have damaged thousands of homes and other buildings, including the chocolate factory operated by Belgian producer Galler.

Galler, located on the banks of the Vesdre just outside Chaudfontaine, was one of the worst affected businesses in the region, as on Wednesday 14 July, the heavy rainfall came streaming down the hill and into its factory.

“We had the site cleared when the water rose 10 centimetres. After, it took me a few days to find the courage to face the devastation here,” Valérie Stefenatto, Galler’s marketing director, told De Standaard. 

In the production hall, the sweet smell of cacao has been taken over by the smell of dampness and flooded sewers, however, the biggest loss as a result of the disaster is also the one that is hardest to replace: a machine with which the factory has been making its famous square bâtons since 1976.

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As a result of the floods, it became buried under a centimetre-thick layer of mud.

“Each piece of chocolate that comes out of it is the exact same. There is only one of them in the world. We don’t even know if we’re going to find any spare parts,” Stefenatto said.

Although they are now working hard to salvage whatever the floods have left in their wake, the business realises it will be a very long recovery process.

“The water has caused the container room in which our workers change clothes to float away for tens of metres. The entire contents of our storage space, 3,600 square metres of ingredients, were thrown away. Even what was not underwater went into the container. You can’t take any risks with food safety,” she said.

“We don’t know if the chocolate will ever roll off the conveyor belt again, but we are keeping our spirits up. We still have stock in a warehouse in Herstal, but it is gradually running out,” she added.

In the meantime, the moulds for the uniquely shapen chocolates have been saved, and Galler is planning to ask other producers to use their machines temporarily, with the hopes of producing their own again from January onwards.

The factory of water producer Chaudfontaine, located on the banks of the Vesdre, has also been destroyed by the floods, so much so that stock shortages are expected soon.

As the dust has settled and the worst of the floods seem to be over, not only does the human and societal damage become clear, but the economic fallout as a result of the disaster is as well.

In the province of Liege specifically, this will be a huge blow, as the unemployment rate was already almost 8% last year, whilst in the capital city of Liège, that figure rose to almost a quarter of the working population.

Last week, the Walloon government put together an initial €2 billion plan to rebuild Wallonia after last week’s deadly floods, of which larger companies will be able to request advances of up to 75% of the estimated damage from another Walloon financial arm, Sogepa.