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Criminal investigation into flood response in Liège

Credit: Belga

The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Liège is investigating whether the deaths of 37 people during the floods in the province of Liège could have been avoided, according to reporting from De Standaard.

An examining magistrate is looking into whether criminal errors were made in the management of the flooding in the province of Liège, the Liège public prosecutor’s office announced on Wednesday.

The prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into “involuntary manslaughter for lack of precaution or foresight.”

Last week, an investigation by Het Laatste Nieuws revealed that the Belgian authorities received 25 warnings of severe weather on the way, and yet nothing appears to have been done until the last minute.

The judicial investigation in Liège doesn’t follow a complaint, but comes from the public prosecutor’s own initiative.

According to prosecutor Damien Leboutte, this doesn’t mean that the public prosecutor already believes that mistakes were made.

“We want to search for the truth in all serenity, objectivity and independence, out of respect for the victims and their families,” Leboutte said.

The water reached heights of up to three metres in places like Verviers, Pepinster, Trooz, Chaudfontaine and other municipalities along the Vesdre during the fatal floods.

“The judicial enquiry is the right decision,” said Bruno Liesse from Chaudfontaine, a member of the collective ‘People Against Flows’ which represents hundreds of victims of the natural disaster.

“The role of the Eupen reservoir on the Vesdre is crucial. The sluices were only opened on Wednesday night,” Liesse told De Standaard.

“It may have been a panic reaction, because the reservoir itself was overflowing. But perhaps they should have let the water out much earlier and more gradually instead of all at once. This created a kind of tsunami. We are not attacking anyone personally. We just want to know where the system has failed.”

Liesse, like many residents, also wonders why the residents of the houses along the Vesdre were not evacuated earlier despite all the warnings.

“We read in the press that there had been several alarms,” Liesse said.

“There was even a code red announced and yet nothing was done? Why?”

Fabrice Dimbourg, a police officer from Verviers, lost his grandmother who lived in Pepinster in the disaster.

“I want to know the truth about what happened, even if it means spending all my savings,” he told the newspaper La Meuse.

He instructed his lawyer Thierry Delobel, who represents a number of other victims, to file a complaint.

Delobel said he’s pleased that the public prosecutor in Liège has now opened an investigation.

“The government is giving an important sign to the victims that they are being taken seriously,” Delobel said.

Last week the Walloon Minister for Mobility, Philippe Henry (Ecolo), asked the Service Public de Wallonie (SPW), the government department that manages regional matters, for an overview of the available data of the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).

EFAS sends out warnings about possible flood risks.

The Walloon government is also launching an investigation into the management of the waterways during the disaster, looking to provide more clarity about the opening of the dam.

An external agency will be appointed for that investigation and is expected to come up with conclusions by the end of the summer.

The Brussels Times