Two die as rain storms lash central Switzerland

UPDATED: A woman and her daughter died in the canton of Lucerne as rain storms lashed the central part of Switzerland early Monday and late Sunday, causing flash flooding in several cities.

Two die as rain storms lash central Switzerland
Debris from flooding in Dierikon in the canton of Lucerne, where two people died in a basement home. Photo: Beat Kälin/SRF

Bern, the Swiss capital, Zurich and Lucerne were among the cities the hardest hit by the torrential rain, which followed a heat wave with temperatures above 30C.

A 32-year-old woman and her five-year-old daughter died in Dierikon in the canton of Lucerne, according to state broadcaster SRF.

The pair were surprised by flooding in the basement of their house and drowned, SRF reported, citing information from cantonal police. 

The heavy rain turned streets in the city of Lucerne into rivers, including the area near the train station.

The road to the Swiss Transport Museum in the city was closed because of high water and “manhole covers were washed away”, SRF said.

Elsewhere in the canton, a stream swelled beyond its banks in the village of Udligenswil, flooding the community, news agency ATS said.

The road between this village and Küssnacht was closed to traffic in both directions.

A mudslide cut the road linking Thun and Interlaken in the canton of Bern, while the Aar River threatened to overspill its banks in Bern, ATS reported.

In the city of Zurich and elsewhere in the canton fire fighters were called to deal with 350 cases of flooding.

Another landslide disrupted rail traffic between Birmensdorf and Zurich Altstetten, forcing the cancellation of numerous trains.

Swiss Federal Railways laid on a replacement bus service to assure links for passengers. 

The rain fell heavily in several regions but was of relatively short duration, according to national weather office MeteoSwiss.

The office is forecasting more thunderstorms on Monday afternoon in various parts of the country, including the Jura Mountains, the canton of Uri and the canton of Ticino. 

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Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.