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The day of mourning comes right before the Belgian National Day commemorating the country’s independence
Belgium has declared 20 July 2021 a national day of mourning for the victims of last week’s unprecedented flood, devastating the region of Liège, with the country coming to a standstill for a minute of silence around noon. This comes right before Belgian National Day – one of the country’s major holidays held on the 21st. Furthermore, the National Ball has been cancelled in Brussels, a night of music and dance held in the capital for the past 18 years, that attracted 100,000 people in 2019.
A wave of devastation followed by a wave of solidarity
According to a provisional report, in Belgium, the floods caused by torrential rain claimed the lives of 31 people, with around 70 still missing and dozens of properties destroyed. The majority of the damage seems to be linked to an overflowing dam in the Valley of Vesdre, on a tributary of the river Muse.
This prompted the government to cancel the National Ball, a concert and dance event held on Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels the night before the holiday. At the same time, tomorrow’s event called “Resto National” celebrating Belgian National foods like chips and mussels will still be held, as all the proceeds will be donated as flood aid.
In Leuven, city officials, police and the fire brigade will gather for a minute of silence in front of the municipal building to honour the victims at 12:01.
Mayor Mohamed Ridouani expressed his condolences for the victims, saying: “The havoc is enormous in various places in our country. Our thoughts are with the victims and those who have lost a loved one.”
Antwerp is holding a similar ceremony with sirens of the city’s emergency services blaring for a minute. At the same time, government officials urge the public not to attend the official ceremony on Grote Markt due to the Covid-measures, pleading everyone to commemorate the victims where they are instead.
The city provided some guidance to those who wish to do more than sit still, directing them to the Red Cross. The organisation has substantial experience in setting up disaster centres and coordinating aid.
Across Belgium, people are coming together, contacting their local authorities, and offering donations in solidarity with the victims of the flood.
Since last Friday, the water has gradually receded, revealing a battered landscape: gutted houses, stacked cars, branches and rubbish piled up against bridges.
The victims are working to clean their homes and streets, helped by numerous local and foreign volunteers. At the same time, emergency services are continuing the search for those who are missing and are securing buildings vulnerable to collapse.
Last week's strong floods also affected Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and especially Germany, where the authorities reported at least 165 deaths according to a provisional toll.
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