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Central Switzerland braces itself for another ‘flood of the century’

The River Aare at a weir just before flowing into Lake Biel on Friday. Lake Biel is threatening to reach a record level. Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Lakes and rivers in central Swiss cantons such as Bern and Lucerne have reached dangerous levels, and more rain is forecast for Thursday and Friday.

On Wednesday authorities in canton Bern said water levels on Lake Thun, Lake Biel and in the city of Bern would significantly exceed flood limits in the coming days.

Flooding around Lake Biel was “unavoidable”, according to the authorities on Thursday, who said the situation could be similar to the “flood of the century” in 2005. They urged people to stay away from the lake and river banks and advised them to unplug electrical devices and move valuable items out of rooms at risk. But pumping out cellars was pointless given the amount of water, they said.

On Thursday Lake Lucerne exceeded flood level 5, the highest level. If the water rises another 13cm, the centre of Lucerne will be flooded.

Lake Thun is expected to swell to 25-40 centimetres above the flood limit, according to the authorities. Lake Brienz is also expected to burst its banks.

On Thursday morning the River Aare in Bern reached a flow rate of 520 cubic metres per second. By comparison, during the major floods in 1999 and 2005 the Aare carried just over 600 cubic metres per second.

The level of Lake Zurich also rose overnight but the situation is less critical (flood danger level 4 out of 5). Some lakeside homes risk getting flooded, the cantonal authorities said. The situation is reportedly stable in canton Valais.

Up to 100 millimetres of rain is predicted locally for Thursday and Friday; water levels will peak on Saturday.

On Thursday Guy Parmelin, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, visited Lucerne and thanked the rescue workers for their efforts and solidarity. He had previously examined the situation in Biel.

External Content

Click on lakes and rivers on the map above for the latest information about flood dangers in Switzerland.

Deaths in neighbouring Germany

At least 42 people have died in Germany and dozens were missing on Thursday as record rainfall in western Europe caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away homes and flooded cellars.

In Belgium, two men died due to torrential rain and a 15-year-old girl was missing after being swept away by a swollen river.

Downstream in the Netherlands, flooding rivers damaged many houses in the southern province of Limburg, where several care homes were evacuated.

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