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'The human toll is very painful': King Philippe addresses flooding victims in national day speech
King Philippe has expressed sympathy to the victims of last week's widespread flooding, and praised the outpouring of solidarity that has followed, in a televised address to mark Belgium's 21 July national day.
"An unprecedented natural disaster has hit much of our country," the king said in his speech. "Our hearts are with the families and relatives of the victims and all those in distress.
"The human toll is very painful. The floods have caused enormous damage. Many have lost everything. Often a lifetime's work has been swept away in a few hours."
So far, 37 people are confirmed dead from the flooding and six remain missing. Several dozen people who had been reported missing have since come forward to confirm they are alive and well.
The king added: "In the face of adversity, people have shown immense solidarity. From all over the country there has been spontaneous aid to the disaster victims, and countless volunteers have come forward."
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Pepinster on Friday afternoon, one of the municipalities worst affected by the disaster. Some 1,200 homes there are still without electricity and several hundred homes are no longer inhabitable. The cost of the damage in Pepinster alone exceeds €1 billion.
In his speech, the monarch went on to praise the work of the emergency services and the army, and thanked neighbouring countries for providing assistance in the rescue efforts.
He said last week's disaster had come during "another severe test" - 18 months of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our disrupted living conditions have had consequences on people's mental health, especially young people," the king said. "Many have suffered from loneliness and isolation."
He thanked medical personnel who "outdid themselves during three successive waves of the pandemic" and acknowledged Belgium's leading role in producing vaccines for the world.
The king concluded: "I am confident in the capacity that we have to bounce back."
Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/Belga