Our family and friends have been sending messages, emails, and calling to find out how we are doing. Looking back, we can say that we were very lucky this time around.
No fatalities were reported in Luxembourg but the devastation is terrible.
We’ve been through flooding before and have learned to take steps to be somewhat prepared. In 1993 we were flooded twice, again in 1995, and in 2003. After the 2003 flooding, when we had 167 cm of water in our basement, we had an electrician come in and move all the light switches and sockets up above the water level.
The flood levels recorded during those years are still in the top 5 recorded for the Sauer River in the town of Bollendorf, 7 km upriver from Echternach. The flooding this summer surpassed the 2003 record and was 635 cm.
13 Jan 1993: 579 cm
21 Dec 1993: 608 cm
23 Jan 1995: 570 cm
03 Jan 2003: 615 cm
15 Jul 2021: 635 cm at 16:30
If you have not experienced something similar to the images you’ve been seeing in the news, you cannot imagine what it is like when your home is filling with water with no end in sight.
In previous years our part of town was the first to be flooded. People still come to check our street whenever it looks like it the Sauer River may flood. About 15 or so years ago they set up a pump station across the street from our house. It pumps the floodwater from the Osweiler Bach, a stream coming down from the nearby village of Osweiler, under the main road that serves as a natural dike between the pump station and the Sauer River.
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Our daughter called to check up on us in the late afternoon. When she heard how serious things were getting, she said they would come right away. It took longer than expected for them to get here as several routes they tried were closed due to flooding or trees and debris blocking the roads.
Our son also called and said he would come with the cargo cart that we needed to move the heavy appliances. He and our son-in-law moved our freezer, refrigerator, washer, and dryer out of our basement and onto our back porch where we were able to keep the freezer and refrigerator running. We put our bikes upstairs in the front hallway and parked the car on a higher street. Around midnight water started filling the basement.
The pump system is set up to raise a barrier into the stream and pump the flood water through a 2-meter diameter pipe when the river is at a certain flood level. This time the stream flooded faster than the river, the barrier wasn’t closed, and water wasn’t pumped. We got about 20 centimeters of water in the basement. They were able to manually close the barrier. The pump had to be re-started time and time again during the night. This emptied out our basement and we remained dry afterward.
Thursday, July 15, 2021
Our son called us at 8 o’clock to see how things were. We had been up several hours in the early morning after the pump started working and had not yet gotten up. When we looked out the window, we saw the street was flooding up onto the sidewalk. Water was gushing up from the canal lids, the pavement of the street raised up about 5-10 cm, water was bubbling up between the street and the bricks bordering the parking spots and the sidewalk. It looked like the street drains couldn’t handle all of the water and, without the pumping system that was emptying them, flooding in the street would get worse. We got sandbags to keep the water from running down our driveway into the basement which is also our garage.
In the meantime, the flood level in Bollendorf climbed above the record high bringing the water level to a critical point. The river kept rising and several campers along the banks were pulled in. They floated down river and got stuck under the bridge in Wasserbillig about 20 kilometers further down the river from us. A special crane had to be brought in from France to get them out as they were completely blocking the flow and backing up the river. The floodwall on the other side of Echternach where the train station used to be was threatening to overflow.
At one point it looked like the river might rise enough to flood the main road that runs between our house and the river. The overflow would have quickly filled up the area we live in. We decided to clear everything out of our basement before the expected flooding.
The fire department was ready for the worst and told us to pack a bag and be ready to evacuate as there were plans to run off excess water from the reservoir in northern Luxembourg to keep it from overflowing. Fortunately, they were able to hold it back long enough while the bridge was cleared in Wasserbillig. In the meantime, the flood walls in town overflowed flooding the other end of town and into the center. People had to be evacuated as they didn’t have electricity and/or water.
Although the river was still rising, it hadn’t rained all day. We went to our son’s house around 4 in the afternoon with plans to spend the night there. Our granddaughter was ready for her afternoon nap, so our son and I took her out in the stroller for a walk while my husband rested at the house. We enjoyed the time with our granddaughter, son, and daughter-in-law but were only able to relax a bit. After supper, my husband talked to one of our neighbors who had stayed in his house. The campers had been removed and the level of the river had gone down below the critical point. We decided to go back home instead of staying the night at our son’s.
When we got to our house, no change could be seen. But there were a lot of gawkers!
Friday, July 16, 2021
When we got up on Friday, the water in the street had begun to recede. There wasn’t any in front of our house but it was still bubbling up through the canal lids. Next door, the house closest to the stream, the street was still flooded. The pavement had nearly lowered back to normal. There is a crack from one side of the street to the other by the bridge. The person who came to look at it didn’t think it would affect the concrete bridge’s stability. We’ll have to wait and see. We don’t have to drive across it to get out of our street.
On the positive side, even though we had only a small amount of water, we got an opportunity to deep clean the basement. After the flooding in 2003, we had the walls tiled which made it easier to wipe everything down. We cleaned up the pantry floor and got all of the foodstuff and wine back on the shelves. We were too tired to clean up the rest of the basement/garage floor.
Saturday, July 17, 2021
We made plans with our daughter to have pancakes for breakfast before she would help us with the rest of the cleanup and putting everything back in place. Slowly my dining room and living room were cleared. Our son-in-law came after work to help put the appliances back. Then all we had were the bikes and a few odds and ends to put away. Our son was helping out at his wife’s grandmother’s house. She also lives in Echternach, in one of the streets that had the worst flooding.
Sunday, July 18, 2021
We spent the day with our daughter and son-in-law at their house. We were still tired but glad that the pump station did its job and kept our basement empty of floodwaters. Without the pumping station, we would have had about 185 cm of water in our garage/basement – very close to the ceiling.
Monday, July 19, 2021
We thought we would begin the new week without any more issues. We’d planned on having our son and daughter-in-law over for lunch and then some playtime with our granddaughter. An ant invasion changed those plans. It was winter the other times we were flooded and didn’t have this problem. We set a new date with the kids. We ended up running the vacuum cleaner on and off all morning, sprinkled baking powder and baking soda all along the ants’ pathway. A day later, we still had a few strays.
My husband took the photos you see here on Thursday morning before things became critical. He only went as far as the end of our road. We’ve only seen photos of the rest of Echternach and haven’t visited in person. We believe the only reason people should be visiting the damaged areas is to offer their help. The others times we experienced the terrible flooding, nosy people walked down our driveway nearly into our basement to get a good look while we were cleaning up. I would not wish this on anyone!
We were very lucky this time around. Compared to others in our town we had only minor issues.
© 2021, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.