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Swiss assess damage after devastating floods

Soldiers remove driftwood from the River Aare in the Matte district of Bern

(Keystone)

Clean-up operations were in full swing on Thursday after flooding caused serious damage in many parts of Switzerland.

As the situation eased, the deathtoll rose to five and insurers estimated the economic cost of the natural disaster at more than SFr1 billion ($0.8 billion).

The army and civilian workers continued clearing fallen wood from rivers and lakes while buildings were inspected for damage and vital repairs were carried out.

While many broken transport links have now been restored, some villages are still cut off and others in canton Bern and central Switzerland remain under water. Many homes are without electricity.

Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, said the economic costs of the disaster could amount to more than SFr1 billion. It said it expected claims related to the floods in Switzerland, Germany and Austria to total SFr100 million.

Speaking during a visit to Brienz in the Bernese Oberland, Swiss President Samuel Schmid rejected claims by the United Nations disaster reduction agency that the population had not been adequately warned of the risk of flooding.

He said he was "astonished that anyone could say Switzerland had not been prepared".

"I would like to see another country as prepared as Switzerland is for dealing with such disasters," he said.

Evacuations

In the capital, Bern, the last residents of the Matte district were evacuated from their homes. In total more than 300 people have been moved from the area owing to fears that buildings could collapse.

On Thursday evening there were renewed evacuations of residents in the Bernese Oberland as rain set in and the risk of landslides grew.

The body of a woman was found in Brienz, raising the flood toll to five dead and one missing.

In eastern Switzerland the situation was normalising, and fears over contaminated drinking water receded.

In Lucerne the situation was improving after the water level of Lake Lucerne fell, but parts of the city were still under water.

Swiss Federal Railways reported that the main north-south axis, which had been cut by the flooding, would be fully reopened on Friday morning, permitting passenger train travel between Basel and Ticino.

And the airport in Bern announced that scheduled and charter flights had resumed on Thursday afternoon.

Positive assessment

Meanwhile the military drew a positive balance from its involvement in the rescue operation, which began four days ago, describing it as "fast and professional".

Army chief Christoph Keckeis told a news conference 1,000 soldiers had been drafted in to help in the relief effort, backed up by 11 helicopters. The new army concept had proved itself, he said.

The army said it would provide emergency assistance until next Tuesday, when it would switch to providing back-up to the cantonal authorities.

Also on Thursday, the Swiss civil protection service announced it had set up a coordination centre to deal with requests for assistance from the cantons. It follows public criticism that inter-cantonal cooperation was lacking.

Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, says SFr500,000 has been raised so far for flood victims in the country. Next Wednesday has been declared a national day for fundraising for those worst hit by the disaster.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The charity Swiss Solidarity is holding a national fundraising day on August 31 for victims of the flooding.

Donations can be pledged by telephone between 6am and 12pm.

By Thursday afternoon the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation - swissinfo's parent company - had raised around half a million francs.

Donations can also be made through post office account 10-15000-6.

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