Citizens' collective in flood-torn town to file charges against government for unintentional killing

Citizens' collective in flood-torn town to file charges against government for unintentional killing
Chaudfontaine during the floods. Credit: Municipality of Chaudfontaine

A group of citizens and businesses from the Walloon town of Chaudfontaine will file criminal charges against the government for unintentional killing following the floods which ravaged the area last week.

They are citing lack of protection and preparation as the reason behind their lawsuit, according to reports from French-language broadcaster RTL, which was later confirmed by Bruno Liesse, the spokesman for the collective.

"There was disastrous communication from the government to the municipalities, who were told that evacuations were not necessary," Liesse said.

He added that the group is calling for an objective and independent investigation into the possible failures at the Veusdre dam in Eupen and Gileppe dam during the night of 14 to 15 July, as they are convinced that the waves that flooded this particular region were the result of the opening of the valves of the dam in Eupen.

The collective also wants answers to the question of why they were not opened sooner, and according to Liesse, this is either due to negligence or because economic interest is at play, as both dams are also power plants.

"We obviously do not want the technician of the dam in Eupen to end up in prison. The real problem is that we are not prepared," the group said.

The members argued that in the event of a heatwave, for example, "no plan provides for the distribution of bottled water to the 800,000 senior citizens. Such matters should be dealt with at a national level rather than a regional one," Liesse concluded.

Ignoring warnings

A recent investigation already found that, despite receiving at least 25 warnings of severe weather being on the way, of which the first came on 9 July, the government did nothing to prepare for the disaster which was to follow until the last minute.

After dozens of warnings came in in the following days, the Royal Meteorological Institute (KMI) changed its alert from green to orange, and two days later to red, yet the government still failed to implement preventative measures or take action, like opening the dams and warning municipalities at risk.

Meanwhile, climate experts have come out saying they had warned politicians for decades that natural disasters such as the floods last week would become a reality in Belgium, but that the government failed to act on these warnings.

"We cannot predict individual disasters, but we (the UN climate panel, IPCC) knew that the risk was increasing. Politicians did not take responsibility in time," climate scientist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele said. 

On Friday, KMI issued warnings of more heavy rain during the weekend, which could see certain parts of the country, including those who were heavily affected by the floods last week, experience heavy thunderstorms, intense rainfall, hail storms, and heavy gusts of wind.

The floods resulted in 36 people dying and currently, the Missing Persons Unit is working on 17 files of possible missing people, according to Friday's update from the Crisis Centre. 

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