Torrential rains, flash floods, tornados and forest fires across Western Europe in mid-July left a trail of devastation over parts of Holland, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Turkey – and chaos in their wake. Hundreds of lives were sadly lost, thousands of people had to leave their homes, public buildings and services were damaged, and heritage sites were ruined, with monuments and museums housing artefacts, archives, libraries and other treasures inundated with mud and filthy water. National committees of the Blue Shield in all affected countries went on immediate alert, offering help and liaising with the many organisations, public services, governmental and private organisations and volunteers who were part of the emergency response.
Blue Shield Netherlands also put out a call to their contacts across the heritage sector offering help. In cooperation with UNESCO, they provided advice to private owners of damaged photo collections and documents that were at risk of being lost and shared conservation information over local radio, TV and social media platforms.
Download the report by Blue Shield Netherlands: 2021 floods – Short report Blue Shield Netherlands
Blue Shield Germany, in liaison with ICOM Germany, put out a call to museums in the affected regions to ask whether they needed help. Two major salvage operations followed in which the Chairman of BS Germany was brought in as a technical advisor for CP with the Federal Agency of Technical Relief over four days.
Download the report by Blue Shield Germany: 2021 Floods – BS Germany Short Report
Vicar of St Odilienberg on his way to check damages. © Geert van Helden (Instagram)
Amongst many other activities, Blue Shield Belgium and The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) set up a crisis committee to ensure an efficient and coordinated approach to respond to the scores of museums, churches, archives and heritage sites that had been affected. They posted a form on the website to help recruit volunteers and to reply to questions for intervention. Badly affected sites benefitted from the support of scores of volunteer archivists, historians conservators and engineers over several days, greatly aiding the rescue effort. The French Committee of the Blue Shield stood ready to assist their colleagues in partnership.
Download the report by Blue Shield Belgium: 2021 floods – Short report Blue Shield Belgium
Forest wildfires have devastated parts of Turkey in the Manavgat and Antalya region. Around 500 examples of vernacular architecture called buttoned houses are registered as cultural heritage in the region, but following the fire, many other unregistered examples have been lost. The Turkish National Committee have been aiding in documentation of the damage, and making recommendations for emergency measures, site protection and future disaster prevention activities.
At the same time, a tornado ripped through parts of the Czech Republic on 24 June, affecting several villages and small towns in the south-eastern part of Moravia. In just 8 minutes it destroyed almost 200 residential houses, levelled industrial and agricultural buildings, a home for the elderly, and a shelter for animals. Five people died, hundreds were injured, many domestic animals were killed. Several museums, schools and monuments were damaged and the National Committee of the Czech Republic offered aid. Fortunately, the damage was relatively light, and repairs were swiftly undertaken.
Although the immediate crises are over, the devastation left in their wake, and the damage to heritage sites and cultural property of all kinds in all five countries will require long term recovery and rehabilitation interventions. The national committees involved will remain engaged for the foreseeable future, not only on the front lines, but also behind the scenes, assessing the needs, offering appropriate expert support, avoiding doubling up on what others are doing, and taking this recent crisis as an opportunity to strengthen networks, build volunteer capacity and develop their capacities in the field of emergency response for the next time disaster strikes.