Syrian refugees help bail out German towns amid massive flooding

Europe has been gripped by some of the heaviest rainfall in decades. In some of the hardest-hit parts of the continent, asylum-seekers are assisting with the cleanup. 

Peter Kneffel/dpa/AP
Inhabitants walk on a muddy street in the southern German town of Simbach am Inn on Friday. Refugees from Syria have pitched in to help clean up the Bavarian town.

As floodwaters sweep through Europe, some refugees are pitching in to help with the disaster relief efforts.

"We know what it means to live in a crisis area and to lose your home," Syrian Naja Al Hassas told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, as he assisted with clean-up in In the German town of Simbach am Inn.

"[W]e've gotten so much help from the people in Simbach, now we can give something back and that's good," said Mouath, another of 25 Syrians helping to clear away rubble in the Bavarian town near the Austrian border.

Klaus Schmid, Simbach's mayor, said, "We couldn't cope without volunteer helpers.”

Serious flooding has swept through Germany, Romania, Belgium, and parts of France as heavy rainfall continues to soak the continent. Several people drowned in the flooding and others are reported missing. A Belgian beekeeper was swept away while attempting to save his hives from rising waters.

In France, the Seine River swelled over its banks and continues to rise, although environmental officials expect it to reach a peak of six meters (approximately 18 feet) late Friday. Officials say that's still well below a level that could be dangerous to Parisians. Rainfall is also expected to taper gradually off toward the end of the day Friday. The French energy company Enedis reports that more than 20,000 people have lost power in France and blackouts have occurred throughout Seine et Marne and Essonne, to the east and south of Paris.

The Musée d'Orsay, the Paris National Library, and the Louvre were all closed Thursday because of the heavy flooding. The Louvre was still closed on Friday as museum workers worked to rescue and protect the museum's artworks. The "Mona Lisa" is safe from hazardous flooding on an upper floor of the museum, but museum officials estimate that about 250,000 are located in lower floors of the museum under potential risk from flooding.

Museum staffers turned disappointed tourists away from the Louvre on Friday. Louvre Director Lean-Luc Martinez told the Associated Press that he couldn't say when the museum was expected to reopen.

The Monitor's staff writer Sara Miller Llana in Paris found herself reassuring disappointed tourists along the swollen banks of the Seine.

I assured the family that they saw yesterday Paris's more enjoyable museum – in my opinion: the Musee D’ Orsay. (And they are lucky, as it, too, closed its doors too to protect its world famous collection of Impressionism.) I helped them come up with a Plan B. But their 19-year-old said she was still disappointed, 'to say the least.'

Thwarted tourists are hardly the top priority of France, though – even though amid terrorism threats, strikes, and street marches, this comes as another blow to the city and its reputation."

On Friday, French President François Hollande declared a "natural disaster" in Paris, after announcing a state of emergency in parts of France on Thursday. France's national weather service has said that May was France's wettest month since 1960.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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