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Floods: Schools prepare to open, most rail lines fixed, Walibi shut until October

16:49 24/08/2021

School staff in areas of Wallonia flooded last month are working round the clock to prepare classrooms for the arrivals of pupils. The new school year starts on Wednesday, 1 September.

While some schools have been damaged to the point where facilities elsewhere had to be sought out, most have been the subject of massive clean-up efforts. Some schools lost nearly all of their supplies and a great deal of furniture, either washed away or unusable.

Donation campaigns were launched by the Catholic school network as well as the Red Cross, which have collected both supplies and monetary donations to buy what is still needed. Organised donation campaigns are also being carried out by schools, communities and organisations across the country.

Some 8,000 primary and secondary school pupils live in the areas devastated by the July floods. And that doesn’t include the pre-schools, which are also receiving donated supplies.

Over the last few days, lorries full of donated supplies and furniture rolled into the affected provinces. Schools in Rochefort, for instance, received supplies at the weekend from a town in Antwerp province.

“I was deeply affected by the images that I saw, as a mother but also as a schoolteacher,” Stefanie Lindner told VRT. She took the initiative to gather supplies from her own community. “I thought about what I would need if my own class was completely flooded and I had nothing left.”

Some of the supplies went to a pre-school that had indeed lost everything. “The water got into all of the cupboards,” pre-school teacher Muriel Bauraind told VRT. “We have cleaned the cupboards, but all the materials in them had to go – worksheets, craft supplies, toys, books.”

While the school now has adequate supplies to be able to open its doors, teachers are working tireless to make sure they look more or less the same as before the floods, Bauraind explained. “The children need to come back to a real classroom atmosphere. Many of them are coming from homes that have been badly damaged or had to leave their house entirely. We need to make coming back to school a positive experience.”

Bauraind emphasised that a team of psychologists are available to talk to the kids if necessary. “I think it will help them to come back to a class and to their teacher and to their friends.”

Largest-ever rail repair operation

Meanwhile, rail infrastructure manager Infrabel has announced that most of the railway lines damaged by the floods are repaired. Twenty-three of the 26 spots where repairs were required are finished. The final three will be completed by 1 October.

Some railway bridges were badly damaged by the floods, and it is these sections that are taking the longest to repair and replace. The bridge on line 49, for instance, which serves the Ostend-Eupen connection, partially collapsed when it was covered by rushing waters, which also filled the tunnel leading to the bridge.

At the three locations – between Liège and Pepinster, between Pepinster and Spa and between Gembloux and Ottignies – Infrabel must rebuild bridges, stabilise embankments and repair cabling. In Pepinster alone, 50 to 100 people are busy every day, the biggest repair job the firm has ever undertaken.

“Nearly 50 of these workers were affected by the floods themselves, 15 of them lost their homes,” said Infrabel CEO Benoît Gilson. “And still, they show up every day to work. I am enormously grateful to them.”

Workers inspect technical installations at the Walibi amusement park in Wavre
Workers inspect technical installations at the Walibi amusement park in Wavre  
©James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA

Finally, the Walibi amusement park in Wavre also plans to re-open in early October, though staff admit this is a major challenge. Most of the park’s attractions were underwater to some extend or another.

“Fortunately, there is no structural damage to the park,” spokesperson Justien Dewil told RTBF. But there has been a great deal of damage to technical installations on every level, she said, including “the attractions, the kitchens in the restaurants, shops and our administrative offices. So the park looks quite all right on the outside, but there is still a lot of work behind the scenes.”

The park has more than 40 attractions, and all of them must be individually checked top to bottom to ensure they are in perfect working order. Often parts must be replaced, and motors must be disassembled and return to the supplier for closer inspection.

Even attractions that appear to be working properly – such as the Vampire and the Dalton Terror – must be checked and validated by an independent body, explained Dewil. It's a race against time for Walibi in order to open before the Halloween season and the autumn school holiday period – a very lucrative period for the park.

Walibi’s water park, meanwhile, Aqualabi, has also suffered damage. No opening date for that has yet been set.

Photo top: A school in Trooz affected by the floods
©Eric Lalmand/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw