Mr. Amess was also a vocal supporter of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which campaigns for the overthrow of Iran’s government. The group has attracted a bipartisan list of American backers, including John R. Bolton, who served as a national security adviser to President Donald J. Trump, and Howard Dean, a onetime chairman of the Democratic Party.
There was no evidence linking the attack to Mr. Amess’s support for the M.E.K. Though the group was once designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and the European Union, all three removed that designation several years ago.
David Jones, a Conservative member of Parliament and a leader of the British Committee for Iran Freedom, which backs the M.E.K., hailed Mr. Amess as “a champion of human rights and democracy in Iran for more than three decades.”
For residents of Leigh-on-Sea, the senselessness of the attack was difficult to comprehend, let alone accept.
“I just want to know, why?” said Audrey Martin, 66, who was buying groceries as Mr. Johnson and the other leaders arrived to lay flowers. “Why has he done it and why has he chosen to come to Leigh-on-Sea?”
Fidelia McGhee, 48, who lives near the site of the attack, said that Mr. Amess had always championed local causes. While she described herself as a longtime Labour voter, she praised him as a kind, committed politician. She called the attack “the stuff of nightmares” that would leave an indelible mark on the town.
“It is quite tragic,” she said. “I think we’ve lost something we will never get back.”
Mark Landler and Stephen Castle reported from London, and Megan Specia from Leigh-on-Sea, England.
LEIGH-ON-SEA, England — For the second time in little more than five years, a British lawmaker meeting with constituents was killed in full view of the public, this time in a genteel seaside town, where the victim, a Conservative Party member of Parliament, was fatally stabbed on Friday inside a church.
The attack, which the authorities declared a terrorist attack early Saturday, stunned Britain’s political establishment, raising questions about the security of lawmakers at a time when the country is already on edge, unnerved by shortages of food and fuel, and frayed by a political culture that has become increasingly raw and combative in the aftermath of Brexit.
“The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” the police said.
The lawmaker, David Amess, 69, was a long-serving member of the House of Commons known for his soft-spoken manner and hard-line views on Brexit. He was engaged in the everyday political routine of meeting with constituents when the attack occurred in Leigh-on-Sea, on the mouth of the Thames, about 40 miles east of London.
a right-wing extremist targeted her outside a meeting with constituents.
In 2010, another Labour lawmaker, Stephen Timms, was stabbed twice in the abdomen by an Islamist extremist, but survived.
Photographs taken at the scene showed a number of emergency responders and a cordoned-off area around the church. The police said that officers had responded to reports of a stabbing shortly after 12:05 p.m., and that Mr. Amess had died at the scene.
the Brexit referendum, and the assailant, Thomas Mair, an unemployed gardener, was sentenced to life in prison.
on Twitter. “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself,” he wrote. “There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
Across the political spectrum, lawmakers and other prominent Britons recalled Mr. Amess’s gentle manner and work on behalf of animals.
“He was hugely kind and good,” said Carrie Johnson, the wife of the prime minister, on Twitter. “An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
“Heartbroken,” wrote Tracey Crouch, a fellow Conservative lawmaker. “I could write reams on how Sir David was one of the kindest, most compassionate, well liked colleagues in Parliament. But I can’t. I feel sick. I am lost. Rest in Peace. A little light went out in Parliament today. We will miss you.”
In Leigh-on-Sea, known for its annual regatta and folk festival, news of the attack reverberated through normally tranquil tree-lined streets.
“This doesn’t really happen, this is a nice quiet area,” said Alysha Codabaccus, 24, who lives in an apartment a few doors down from the church. “I mean, it literally happened in a church.”
At Mojo’s Seafood, a small white shack that serves fresh fish from the nearby coastline, the customers expressed horror and sadness. One remarked on the impact on Mr. Amess’s family. “He’s got five kids,” the man said quietly.
Lee Jordison, who works at a butcher shop 100 yards from the church, said he had heard sirens and seen armed officers running up the street, shattering the typical autumn afternoon quiet, and had known instantly that something was very wrong. He said a shaken woman had told him that people ran from the church screaming, “Please get here quick, he’s not breathing!”
Mr. Jordison said he had met Mr. Amess a few times. “He always used to visit our shop,” he said. “He was a very nice guy from the time I met him. He had a lot of time for the community.”
Megan Specia reported from Leigh-on-Sea, and Stephen Castle and Mark Landler from London.
The problem, critics said, is that many people who oppose masks in classrooms also tend to oppose other mitigation measures, like improved ventilation or smaller teaching bubbles.
“It can’t be a dichotomy between requiring masks and allowing children to become infected,” said Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London. “It’s hugely irresponsible to expose kids to these risks.”
Then, too, scientists said, Black and Asian children are more likely to be hospitalized from the disease, much as Black and ethnic minority adults are statistically more likely to have severe illnesses or die from it.
“What we need to keep in mind is that children, much like adults, are not all in the same boat when they face the pandemic,” said Zubaida Haque, a member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a coalition of experts that has been highly critical of the government’s pandemic response.
For some, the time has come to act. Lisa Diaz, a mother from the northwest of England, campaigned on social media for the recent school strike to send a message to the government that they do not agree with its approach. “These are our children,” she said. “They are not numbers on a sheet.”
For other parents, however, the instinct is simply to say good riddance.
“I think the assumption is that everyone, certainly the parents, are all double vaccinated at this point,” said Robert Loynes, who was picking up his daughter from school recently in London. “I haven’t seen teachers wearing masks, but I also am fine with that. I don’t expect them to, so it kind of feels back to normal, which in my mind is a good thing.”
GAZA CITY — King Abdullah II of Jordan came under heightened scrutiny on Sunday after an alliance of international news organizations reported that he was among several world leaders to use secret offshore accounts to amass overseas properties and hide their wealth.
The king was accused of using shell companies registered in the Caribbean to buy 15 properties, collectively worth more than $100 million, in southeast England, Washington, D.C., and Malibu, Calif. The purchases were not illegal, but their exposure prompted accusations of double standards: The Jordanian prime minister, who was appointed by the king, announced in 2020 a crackdown on corruption that included targeting citizens who used shell companies to disguise their overseas investments.
The Jordanian royal court declined to provide a comment to The New York Times, but lawyers for King Abdullah told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published the report, that his foreign properties were bought exclusively with his personal fortune and not public funds.
The claims against King Abdullah were part of a major investigation, known as the Pandora Papers, that was conducted by the ICIJ in partnership with more than a dozen international news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian. Based on leaks of nearly 12 million files from 14 offshore companies, the investigation found that King Abdullah was among 35 current and former leaders, as well as more than 300 public officials, who have used offshore shell companies to disguise their wealth, and to hide the transfer of that wealth overseas.
accusing the prince of conspiring against him. The king forgave the prince, who previously embarrassed the king by speaking out against government corruption, but a court later jailed two of the prince’s alleged accomplices.
In recent months, King Abdullah attempted to shore up his standing by underscoring his reliability as a Western ally and a major player in Middle Eastern diplomacy; he met recently with President Biden and with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, following several years of fraught relations with their predecessors.
But just as King Abdullah appeared to have turned a corner, the new revelations “might be a trigger for people to go back to the streets,” said Mr. Al Sabaileh.
King Abdullah is among dozens of current and former leaders whose overseas investments were exposed. Other leaders included President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose alleged former lover was found to have purchased an apartment in Monaco; Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the Czech Republic, who is said to have bought property in the south of France using a complicated offshore structure; President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, who sold a London mansion to the Crown Estate, a property trust formally owned by Queen Elizabeth II; and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who avoided paying taxes worth more than $400,000 when he and his wife Cherie obtained a London property by purchasing the offshore company that owned it.
The mechanism was legal and Mrs. Blair, who used the property as an office for her legal consultancy, told the BBC that the Blairs had only bought the building through the offshore company at the request of the sellers.
Building dams that flood land, the beavers have infuriated farmers. Some have obtained permits to kill the animals — setting off outrage among conservationists.
By Stephen Castle
Photographs by Kieran Dodds
EDINBURGH — Wrapped inside a brown hessian sack, the baby beaver wriggled as it was carried to an examination table, but gave up the fight as a veterinarian deftly punched a microchip into its thick pelt and removed clumps of brown fur for samples.
“It’s stressful for the animal,” said Romain Pizzi, a wildlife specialist, as he extracted blood from the scaly flat tail of the male kit captured just a few hours earlier. Nonetheless, he added, this was a lucky young beaver.
“The alternative,” he said, “is that it’s going to be shot.”
But the sanctioned killing of an otherwise protected species has enraged conservationists, prompting a legal challenge and igniting a polarizing debate about farming, biodiversity and the future of Scotland’s countryside.
Although there was an official trial reintroduction of beavers in 2009 in the west of Scotland, the animal’s return is primarily a result of earlier escapes or unauthorized releases of beavers imported privately, mainly from Bavaria or Norway. The growing population is most evident in the streams of Tayside, north of Edinburgh.
The five-month-old kit in the examining room, weighing in around nine pounds, had been caught in a trap in Tayside and rescued from what is called a “conflict area” — where, because of the damage the animals cause, farmers have won licenses to kill them. In 2020, they killed 115 of the animals, about 10 percent of a beaver population that now stands at roughly 1,000 across Scotland.
the new Scottish government’s draft policy program.
In Scotland, beaver territories, which vary in size but typically feature around four animals, have increased steadily — from 39 in 2012 to 251 in 2020-21, according to an official report. In 2019, beavers were given protected status, albeit with farmers able to apply for licenses to cull.
Now, a rewilding charity, Trees for Life, has challenged the Scottish government’s nature agency, NatureScot, in court claiming that it issues licenses too readily.
Bamff estate in Perthshire, where Paul and Louise Ramsay run an eco-tourism operation. The Ramsays brought Scotland’s first recent-era beavers to the site in 2002, when there were fewer restrictions, as part of their own beaver rewilding project.
The idea was to restore natural habitats on their land after centuries of drainage designed to maximize farm yields. A significant transformation can be seen in a wild, scenic stretch of the 1,300-acre estate, which has been in the family since 1232.
Tall trees felled by beavers have crashed into pools of water separated by dams. Along the bank of a small river stood birch trees that were almost gnawed through; a few meters away a beaver could be seen swimming with a large clump of foliage in its mouth.
regulate the water level of their aquatic habitats.
The 20 or so beavers living here have killed many trees, a point of contention for the Ramsays’ critics. But they have attracted otters, allowed water pools to fill with trout, frogs and toads, and given a nesting place in dead trees to woodpeckers, Ms. Ramsay said.
She said the problem was not the beavers, but farmers who think that any land that does not produce a crop is wasted.
“Their motivation is to drain, drain, drain, so a beaver comes along and wants to make a wet bit here or there — which might be a brilliant habitat — that’s against the farmer’s interest,” she said.
Some beavers did escape from Bamff, Ms. Ramsay acknowledged. She claimed that by the time that happened, though, others had already escaped from a wildlife park some distance away.
The Ramsays took over management of the estate in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, Mr. Ramsay said, he became excited by the idea of introducing beavers at a time when he says the farming and fishing lobby had blocked an official trial project. He denies suggestions from critics that he deliberately let beavers escape to speed things up.
At his farm not far away in Meigle, Adrian Ivory was unconvinced. “Those animals have now escaped for whatever reason,” he said, “and the financial burden is not on the person who caused the problem but on us where the issue now is. They’re now being hailed as heroes for getting beavers back in and there is no thought about what damage it’s doing to our livelihoods.”
Beaver dams in a stream on his land must be removed regularly, Mr. Ivory said, because they threaten the drainage system in a nearby field and caused one year’s crop to rot. Burrowing threatens the stability of banks, making it potentially dangerous to use tractors.
Mr. Ivory said the damage may have cost him £50,000, including wrecked crops and labor costs. “If you rewild everywhere, where’s your next meal coming from?” he asked. “Food becomes a lot more expensive, or you have to import it.”
Mr. Ivory declined to discuss whether he had culled the beaver population on his land, but said he allowed the animals to be trapped for relocation, a task undertaken in Tayside by Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the restoration manager at the Beaver Trust charity.
She works with farmers, rising early in the morning to check traps, then relocating animals to beaver projects in England, where more than 50 have been sent. (Scotland does not allow the animals to be relocated within the country.)
Ms. Campbell-Palmer said she found beavers fascinating and admired their dam-building skills, tenacity and single-mindedness. That said, she understands the complaints of farmers and admits that, having seen some particularly destructive tree-felling, has occasionally said to herself, “‘Of all the trees to cut down, why did you do that one?’”
As she inspected a trap filled with carrots, turnips and apples, Ms. Campbell-Palmer reflected on the ferocious debate and concluded that beavers had undeniably achieved one thing in Scotland.
“I think what they are doing,” she said, “is making us ask wider questions about how we are using the landscape.”
In the past few weeks, the vast majority of the most highly engaged social media posts containing coronavirus misinformation were from people who had risen to prominence by questioning the vaccines in the past year.
In July, the right-wing commentator Candace Owens jumped on the misstatement from Britain’s scientific adviser. “This is shocking!” she wrote. “60% of people being admitted to the hospital with #COVID19 in England have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the government’s chief scientific adviser.”
After the scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, corrected himself, Ms. Owens added the correct information at the bottom of her Facebook post. But the post was liked or shared over 62,000 times — two-thirds of its total interactions — in the three hours before her update, a New York Times analysis found. In all, the rumor collected 142,000 likes and shares on Facebook, most of them coming from Ms. Owens’s post, according to a report by the Virality Project, a consortium of misinformation researchers from outfits like the Stanford Internet Observatory and Graphika.
When reached for comment, Ms. Owens said in an email: “Unfortunately, I’m not interested in The New York Times. The people that follow me don’t take your hit pieces seriously.”
Also in July, Thomas Renz, a lawyer, appeared in a video claiming that 45,000 people had died from coronavirus vaccines. The claim, since debunked, relies on unverified information from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a government database. The baseless claim had been included in a lawsuit that Mr. Renz filed on behalf of an anonymous “whistle-blower,” in coordination with America’s Frontline Doctors — a right-wing group that spread misinformation about the pandemic in the past.
Mr. Renz’s video got more than 19,000 views on Bitchute. The unfounded claim was repeated by the top Spanish-language Telegram channels, Facebook groups and the conspiracy website Infowars, collecting over 120,000 views across the platforms, according to the Virality Project.
In an email, Mr. Renz said his practice had “performed the due diligence necessary” to believe in the accuracy of the allegations in the lawsuit he had filed. “We actually do not believe that the Biden administration is responsible for this, rather we believe that President Biden, like President Trump before him, was misled by the same group of conflicted bureaucrats,” Mr. Renz said.
GRANTHAM, England — Daniela Espirito Santo died after waiting on hold for the police to answer her call for help.
It was the seventh time in a year that she had reported her boyfriend to the police, including for death threats and for trying to strangle her. Two of those calls came in the hours before her death. The first was in the morning, after her boyfriend pinned her on the bed and pressed his forearm against her throat.
“Is this it?” Ms. Espirito Santo, 23, had gasped, according to a police report. “Are you going to kill me this time?”
The police took him into custody but quickly released him. He returned to Ms. Espirito Santo’s apartment and soon afterward she called the police to report that he had assaulted her again. The dispatcher told her that her situation wasn’t urgent, because the boyfriend had left. He directed her to a nonemergency hotline and hung up after 94 seconds.
during the first month of Britain’s lockdown — more than triple the number in that month the previous year, and the highest figure in a decade. But it also illustrates another flaw in British authorities’ efforts to address violence against women: the repeated failure of prosecutors to punish abusers.
Initially charged with manslaughter, the boyfriend, Julio Jesus, then 30, was eventually sentenced to only 10 months behind bars. The Crown Prosecution Service, the national public prosecutor, dropped its manslaughter charge because of complicating medical opinions about the condition of Ms. Espirito Santo’s heart, and convicted him on two counts of serious assault. He was released before England’s coronavirus lockdowns had ended.
“There was a litany of failures where once again a woman’s voice hasn’t been listened to,” said Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker who speaks for the opposition on domestic violence policy. “This case shows nothing is changing, even though victims keep being promised it is.”
fewer than 2 percent of rape cases and 8 percent of domestic abuse cases reported to the police in England and Wales are prosecuted, even as complaints are rising.
The nation was shocked earlier this year when a police officer confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who was abducted while walking home in South London. The crime underscored the vulnerability felt by many British women and their concern that the police and prosecutors are failing to protect them.
Parliament recently approved new legislation on domestic abuse. But changing policing and public attitudes has proved difficult for decades. Failings and missed opportunities by the police often remain hidden.
Ms. Espirito Santo’s case fit that pattern. Her death in Grantham, a market town in the largely rural English county of Lincolnshire, received little outside attention and was regarded as a tragedy, not a scandal. An inquest into her death is in limbo. Lincolnshire Police — a small force covering a wide area with a sparse but often deprived population — refused an interview, as did the Crown Prosecution Service.
But an investigation by The New York Times lays bare the escalating abuse Ms. Espirito Santo reported, gives a rare insight into police failings and raises questions about the decision by prosecutors to drop the manslaughter charge. The Times has obtained a confidential 106-page report compiled by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, an official watchdog, into the Lincolnshire force’s handling of the case.
The report documents Ms. Espirito Santo’s ever more desperate interactions with the police, revealing a haphazard response as her situation worsened. It noted that some male officers felt sympathetic toward Mr. Jesus before releasing him on bail, including one who said his “biggest concern” was the boyfriend’s mental health.
government failings on domestic abuse at the start of Britain’s lockdowns, which left victims trapped at home with abusers and isolated from family and friends. The rules were especially constricting for people with serious health conditions, like Ms. Espirito Santo, who had to pause her job at a nursing home.
“Daniela’s case is a scandalous failing by the police to recognize someone who was at an increasing risk of domestic homicide,” Ms. Wistrich said. “But it is sadly illustrative of many cases we see.”
Lincolnshire Police refused to answer even written questions, citing concerns about prejudicing a future inquest. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said it was determined to improve the handling of crimes against women and girls and to “narrow the gap” between “reports of these terrible offenses and cases reaching court.”
Ms. Espirito Santo’s story — pieced together by The Times through the confidential report, other documents and more than a dozen interviews — is of a yearlong cry for help that went unheard.
“Everything happened because the police didn’t help Daniela when she rang,” said Isabel Espirito Santo, Ms. Espirito Santo’s mother. “If the police had helped more, I think she could still be here.”
Ms. Espirito Santo was pregnant with her second child when she first reported Mr. Jesus to the police. It was May 19, 2019, and she told officers that he had threatened to kill her, that he was violent and controlling and “excessively jealous.”
examination of domestic abuse complaints stated that it was officers’ job to “build the case for the victim, not expect the victim to build the case for the police.”
‘Is This It?’
Fifteen hours before she died, Ms. Espirito Santo made her penultimate call to the police. It was 9:48 a.m. She told the operator that Mr. Jesus had thrown her on the bed and grabbed her neck, leaving a mark. He had left, but not before pinning her with the front door and threatening to kill her. When two officers arrived, she agreed to support a prosecution.
She told the officers that she had “lost count” of how often Mr. Jesus had assaulted her, often squeezing her neck so tightly that she struggled to breathe. She said that he sometimes slammed her against furniture, that he had once broken her finger, and that she was afraid he might kill her.
Two hours later, Mr. Jesus was arrested, crying as he was taken into custody. Later that afternoon, Ms. Espirito Santo called Ms. Price-Wallace and said the police had told her that Mr. Jesus would be released pending a charging decision.
can qualify as manslaughter if it leads to a death, even if the killing was unintentional. Those found guilty can face up to life in prison.
But prosecutors decided to drop the charge after a cardiologist hired by Mr. Jesus’s lawyers argued that while the assault could have caused the heart failure, so could a verbal argument.
Prosecutors concluded that they could no longer meet the tests for a manslaughter conviction by proving that the heart failure was caused by an assault, a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said.
That was despite the fact Ms. Espirito Santo had reported an assault, not an argument, minutes before her death; despite Mr. Jesus’s admission that he had assaulted her that morning; and despite her history of domestic violence complaints.
The official watchdog report on Lincolnshire Police found that the “decision making of its officers may have influenced the circumstances of the events” around Ms. Espirito Santo’s death, if not caused it, and blamed officers for a “lack of detailed consideration of Mr. Jesus’s situation” on release.
Yet the report did not recommend disciplinary action and mentioned only one “potential learning recommendation” — for a formal policy around sending calls to the nonemergency number, a change that has been introduced. In a statement to The Times, the watchdog agency said it had also made “learning” recommendations for two officers on how they interacted with Mr. Jesus.
Domestic Abuse Act. It was a response to growing outrage over failures in abuse cases. For the first time, the law established that nonfatal strangulation — which Ms. Espirito Santo repeatedly reported — is a criminal offense, bringing up to five years in prison.
Since such strangulation usually does not leave marks, the police often fail to recognize it as a serious crime. Prosecutors, in turn, do not bring more serious charges. Advocates for abuse victims have welcomed the law but say it will change little unless police and public prosecutors are educated in using it, and given proper resources.
On July 5, on what would have been Ms. Espirito Santo’s 25th birthday, her mother and two dozen others scattered her ashes at her favorite spot, a lake in the Lincolnshire countryside. Her grandmother gave a reading in Portuguese by the water’s edge. Her mother wept.
“I didn’t get justice in court,” she said. “But I believe in justice of the gods.”
www.thehotline.org. In the United Kingdom, call 0808 2000 247, or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk.
an ambitious proposal to cut carbon emissions, how will those who hope to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel respond?
If only because of their sheer scale, analysts say, the floods are likely to play a significant role for voters when they go to the polls on Sept 26 to replace Ms. Merkel, who has led the country for 16 years.
The death toll in Germany climbed to at least 143 on Saturday, while the toll across the border in Belgium stood at 27, its national crisis center said. The count rose most sharply in Germany’s Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate State, where the police said that more than 90 people had died. The authorities feared that number could yet grow.
In Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country that prides itself on its sense of stability, the chaos wrought by nature was likely to reverberate for months, if not years.
But on Saturday, residents and rescue workers in flood-hit areas faced the more immediate and daunting task of clearing piles of debris, unclogging roads and salvaging some of the homes that had survived the deluge.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, but officials have struggled to offer precise numbers.
Electricity and telephone services remain inaccessible in parts of Germany, and some roads are still impassable. That lack of access may account for the high tallies of those still considered missing. And some of those who are not accounted for could simply be away, on vacation or work assignment. In Belgium, police officers started knocking on doors to try to confirm the whereabouts of residents.
Still, officials said they expected to find additional victims.
Extreme downpours like the ones that hit Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more rainfall.
Floods of this size have not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years, according to meteorologists and German officials.
Rhineland-Palatinate was one of the two hardest-hit German states in the west, along with North Rhine-Westphalia. The Rhine River flows through the two regions, and the rain fell so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and tributaries not typically considered flood threats.
Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, traveled on Saturday to the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where the flooding destroyed homes. Ms. Merkel planned to travel on Sunday to Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate, which was badly hit, even as all of its 700 residents managed to survive.
There were scenes of devastation from all around Western Europe, the floods having caused damage from Switzerland to the Netherlands. But Germany was hardest hit.
Days before roiling waters tore through western Germany, a European weather agency had issued an extreme flood warning, as models showed that storms would send rivers surging to levels that had not been seen in hundreds of years.
The warnings, however, did little good.
Though Germany’s flood warning system, a network of sensors that measure river levels, functioned as it was supposed to, state and local officials said the amount of rain was unlike anything they had ever seen, causing even small streams and rivers to flood their banks.
Survivors and officials said many areas were caught unprepared as normally placid brooks and streams turned into torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges. About 15,000 police officers, soldiers and emergency service workers have been deployed in Germany to help with the search and rescue.
Dr. Linda Speight, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Reading in Britain who studies how flooding occurs, blamed poor communication about the high risk posed by the flooding as contributing to the significant loss of life. “There should not have been so many deaths from this event,” she said.
Residents returning home, only to find their homes no longer there. Roads submerged by landslides. Loved ones still unaccounted for.
As the weather improved on Saturday and rescue workers searched for missing residents, many people in flood-hit areas of Germany were trying to re-establish some order amid the chaos and destruction.
Friends and relatives mobilized to help, maneuvering around blocked roads and washed-out bridges. Crushed cars and mounds of ruined goods were carted away, or piled by the side of muddied, cracked roads.
Many expressed amazement at how so much could have been destroyed so quickly. For Lisa Knopp, 19, who was helping to empty the flood-ruined basement of her grandmother’s home in Sinzig, a small town between the Rhine and Ahr rivers, the scenes of destruction “will stay with me a long time.”
Kim Falkenstein said her mother lost her home in Ahrweiler, one of the hardest-hit spots. Ms. Falkenstein, who was born in Ahrweiler and now lives in New York, said several friends had also lost their homes, and a classmate had died.
“I am heartbroken,” she said.
“Seeing my city being destroyed, people who I am close with losing their existence, and knowing I will never return to something I once called home,” Ms. Falkenstein said, “gives me goose bumps.”
In a country that is among Europe’s most prosperous, where orderliness is highly prized, many Germans were unnerved by the helplessness wrought by nature.
Bertrand Adams, a local official in Trier-Ehrang, a town in western Germany, stared in disbelief at the swirling waters only now receding from his community.
“It is beyond anything that could ever be imagined,” he told ZDF television. “We have a very good flood protection system that we developed only five years ago. We were so certain that nothing can go wrong.”
Daniela Schmitz, who has a ranch in Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, was relieved that her property was not destroyed by the floods and that her horses had been evacuated. Others, she said, weren’t that fortunate.
“We were warned early enough — other stables are not doing so well,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message. “Many animals have drowned, entire stalls destroyed, and feed is becoming scarce. The conditions are really catastrophic in many places.”
On Saturday, German television channels carried wall-to-wall coverage of the flooding, as rescue workers continued searching for those who had been trapped by rising waters, with 143 confirmed dead in Germany and hundreds still missing.
As the official response picked up speed on Saturday, electricity, water and internet coverage were slowly being restored. Hundreds of police, fire and emergency vehicles crammed the roads into the most afflicted areas of Rhine-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.
devastation from the floods came from all around Western Europe as the death toll passed 125 on Friday, with another 1,300 people still missing. Roads buckled and washed away. Cars piled atop one another. Houses were inundated to the roof tiles. Frightened residents were being evacuated in the shovels of earth movers.
But nowhere was affected more than Germany, where hundreds were still unaccounted for and the death toll had reached 106 and was expected to rise as rescue workers combed through the debris. At least 20 were reported dead in Belgium.
A European weather agency had issued an “extreme” flood warning after detailed models showed storms that threatened to send rivers surging to levels that a German meteorologist said on Friday had not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years.
German officials said Friday their warning system, which includes a network of sensors that measure river levels in real time, functioned as it was supposed to. The problem, they said, was an amount of rain they had never seen before — falling so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and rivers not normally considered threats.
Extreme downpours like the ones that occurred in Germany are among the most visible and damaging signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have found that they are now occurring more frequently, and scientists point to a simple reason: A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which creates extreme rainfall.
In Central Europe rescue efforts were hampered, with electricity and communications networks down, roads and bridges washed out, and drinking water scarce. The worst hit were thinly populated, rural areas.
In the city of Schleitheim, Switzerland, where a river burst its banks, residents recorded videos of cars being washed through the streets in a swirling flood of muddy water and debris.
Germans struggled even to grasp the scale of the calamity in their country. Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her shock and solidarity from Washington, where she was visiting the White House. Politicians of all stripes called for a truce in the German election campaign. The focus was on how to deal with a disaster that was growing by the hour, with thousands left homeless, in addition to the missing.
In Belgium,the Meuse river overflowed its banks, flooding villages and the center of Liège, leaving thousands without power. The official death toll stands at 20 dead and 20 missing, the authorities said.
“We are still waiting for the final assessment, but these floods could have been the most disastrous that our country has ever known,” Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s prime minister said on Friday.
Relatives of those missing grappled with the fear of the unknown. The authorities in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate said late Thursday that 1,300 people remained unaccounted for in their region, where the Ahr river swelled to an angry torrent late Wednesday, ripping through the towns and villages that hugged its banks.
One of the places in Germany hardest hit by the flooding was tiny Schuld, where the destruction arrived with remarkable speed in the once-tidy village. After the river swelled, vehicles bobbed like bath toys, six houses collapsed and half of those that remained standing had gaping holes torn by floating debris.
“It went so fast. You tried to do something, and it was already too late,” a resident of Schuld told Germany’s ARD public television.
At least 50 people were confirmed dead in the Ahrweiler district, where torrents of water rushed through towns and villages, washing away cars, homes and businesses.
In Sinzig, a town in the district, efforts to evacuate a care home for people with severe disabilities came just moments before the gushing waters swept through the lower levels, killing 12 of the residents.
BERLIN — Days before roiling waters tore through western Germany, a European weather agency issued an “extreme” flood warning after detailed models showed storms that threatened to send rivers surging to levels that a German meteorologist said on Friday had not been seen in 500 or even 1,000 years.
By Friday those predictions proved devastatingly accurate, with at least 125 people dead and 1,300 unaccounted for, as helicopter rescue crews plucked marooned residents from villages inundated sometimes within minutes, raising questions about lapses in Germany’s elaborate flood warning system.
Numerous areas, victims and officials said, were caught unprepared when normally placid brooks and streams turned into torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges and everything else in their paths.
“It went so fast. You tried to do something, and it was already too late,” a resident of Schuld told Germany’s ARD public television, after the Ahr River swelled its banks, ripping apart tidy wood-framed houses and sending vehicles bobbing like bath toys.
Extreme downpours like the ones that occurred in Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more, and more powerful, rainfall.
The floods that cut a wide path of destruction this week through Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands were bigger than any on record, according to meteorologists and German officials.
German officials said Friday their warning system, which includes a network of sensors that measure river levels in real time, functioned as it was supposed to. The problem, they said, was an amount of rain they had never seen before — falling so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and rivers not normally considered threats.
To describe the events of recent days as a 100-year flood would be an understatement, said Uwe Kirsche, a spokesman for the German Weather Service.
“With these small rivers, they have never experienced anything like that,” Mr. Kirsche said. “Nobody could prepare because no one expected something like this.”
On Tuesday, Felix Dietsch, a meteorologist for the German Weather Service, went on YouTube to warn that some areas of southwest Germany could receive previously unimaginable volumes of rain.
The weather service, a government agency, assigned its most extreme storm warning, code purple, to the Eifel and Mosel regions, one of numerous government warnings issued on Twitter and other media earlier this week and transmitted to state and local officials.
But the waters rose so swiftly that some communities’ response plans were insufficient while others were caught off guard entirely.
Medard Roth, the mayor of Kordel, in the hard-hit state of Rhineland-Palatinate, said that he activated his town’s emergency flood response once Kyll River approached dangerous water levels. But the waters rose too rapidly to be held back by the usual measures.
“By 6 p.m., everything was already under water,” Mr. Roth told Bild, a German newspaper. “Nobody could have predicted that.”
Ursula Heinen-Esser, the environment minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said on Friday that floodwaters had reached “levels never before recorded.”
The German flood warning system leaves it up to local officials to decide what action to take, on the theory that they are best informed about local terrain and what people or property lies in the path of an overflowing river.
In the Ahrweiler district of neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, regional officials issued their first warning to residents living near the banks of the river as it approached its record level of 3 meters, or nearly 10 feet. Three hours later, a state of emergency was declared.
By that time, many people had fled to the upper levels of their homes, and those who could not move fast enough died, including 12 handicapped people in an assisted living home in Sinzig.
“The warnings arrived,” Mr. Kirsche of the German Weather Service said. “But the question is why didn’t evacuations take place sooner? That’s something we have to think about.”
MÜSCH, Germany — The bridge that spans the River Ahr washed away last night at around 10:00, said Michael Stoffels, 32, whose own house got flooded by about 12 feet of water.
Müsch, a village of 220 people at the junction of the Ahr and Trierbach rivers, was clobbered by the flash floods that have inundated this part of Germany. Only one person has died, but Müsch on Friday evening was without electricity, running water or cellphone coverage.
Residents and their friends were trying to clean up their battered homes, cracked streets and ruined cars. Local firefighters, like Nils Rademacher, 21, were managing the traffic of bulldozers, small trucks and backhoes, while instructing drivers that roads farther into the river valley were blocked with trees or made impassable by fallen bridges.
“A lot of good cars crashed or got crushed,’’ said Maria Vazquez, who works in a nearby auto repair shop. “I work with cars, so that’s sad, but I just hope that all the people are OK.”
The water rose to flood the village in less than two hours on Wednesday, and came halfway up the houses, Ms. Vazquez said.
The riverbanks were scenes of devastation, with crushed cars and thick tree stumps, while many of the cobbled streets were covered with mud and debris. Truckloads of broken furniture, tree branches and chunks of stone were being driven slowly over downed power lines.
The yellow road sign that tells drivers that they have entered Müsch was pulled out of the ground, laying bent and nearly adrift in the Trierbach River.
Mr. Stoffels said that he had no warning from the government, but that he rushed home from the retail store he manages nearby when a neighbor called. He was lucky, he said, since he has storage on the ground level and his living area is above that. The children’s playground next to his home, along the Ahr, was shattered, as was the main village electrical station, even before the bridge washed away.
He and his brother, who traveled 100 miles to help, and his friends, all wearing boots and muddy clothes, were trying to clean up as best they could. It helped, he said, that Müsch, in the Ahrweiler District of Rhineland-Palatinate close to the border with North Rhine-Westphalia, is farming country.
“Nearly everyone has a small tractor or a bulldozer of some kind,’’ he said. And it was true — the local firefighters were there, but there was little government presence, residents said. On Thursday, Mr. Stoffels said, “a couple of soldiers came for a time and a policeman looked around.”
Not far away, larger villages and towns were devastated, and more than 1,000 people are reported missing by the authorities.
Roger Lewentz, Rhineland-Palatinate’s interior minister, was unable to give an exact number of missing in his state.
“We do not yet know for sure whether some of them may be on vacation or simply unavailable. After all, the power and telephone connections are down in many affected locations,” he told Der Spiegel.
“There haven’t been floods like this here in 100 years,’’ said Sebastian Stich, 28, an office worker from nearby Barweiler who came to help his neighbors. “The bridges, the power, it’s all gone.’’
The floods devastating Europe have killed scores of people, leaving at least 1,300 missing, uprooting families, causing massive financial damage and reducing homes and cars to the state of floating bath toys.But it is not the first time the continent has been buffeted by a deluge. Here are some of the other major lethal floods and flooding caused by storms in recent years:
February and May 2014
A 7-year-old boy dead after falling ill in a flooded home in Surrey. A kayaker drowned on a swollen Welsh river.A coastal railroad ripped up by waves in Cornwall.In a matter of months in 2014, at least 5,000 houses in Britain were damaged in what was then seen as one of the rainiest seasons in nearly 250 years. While some blamed the flooding on the austerity measures of David Cameron, the prime minister at the time, others pointed to climate change. In May of that same year, the heaviest rains and floods in 120 years hit Bosnia and Serbia, killing at least 33 people, forcing thousands out of their homes, and cutting off power in 100,000 households in Serbia, as several months’ worth of rainfall fell in a matter of days.
Germany is no stranger to flooding. In Bitterfeld, in eastern Germany, some 10,000 people were asked to leave their homes in June 2013 after a levee on the Mulde River burst, amid some of the worst flooding that some German regions had seen in centuries. More than 600 residents of Dresden were brought to safety as electricity and water services to the city’s affected center were cut off. Chancellor Angela Merkel, now tested by the current flooding, showed her mettle at the time, touring three of the hardest hit areas to wade through ankle-deep floodwaters and visit victims of the flood.
The storm was called Kyrill by German meteorologists, and it spurred unrelenting rain in Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The howling gale churned through the British Isles and Northern Europe, uprooting trees, shattering windows, flooding beaches and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights at airports from London to Frankfurt. According to the European Environment Agency, Kyrill killed 46 people and resulted in overall losses worth 8 billion euros. At the time, it was one of the most damaging extreme weather episodes ever recorded in Europe. The name Kyrill stemmed from a German practice of naming weather systems. Anyone may name one, for a fee, and three siblings had paid to name the system as a 65th birthday gift for their father, not realizing it would grow into a fierce storm.
Such was the deluge in Central and Southern Europe in 2005 that in the Alps, military helicopters were deployed to ferry in supplies, evacuate stranded tourists and even stranded cows in mountain pastures threatened by rising water. The floods left dozens dead. In Romania, which was badly affected by the flooding, victims were drowned as torrents of water rushed into their homes. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany and Switzerland were also buffeted by the flooding. The scenes of devastation were visceral and shocking. The Aare River broke through the windows of a children’s clothes shop in Bern, leaving baby strollers and toys floating in muddy water. Much of the historic old city of Lucerne remained underwater. Meanwhile, in southern Poland, rivers broke their banks and at least seven bridges collapsed.
In 2002, some of the worst rains since 1890 pelted the Czech Republic, putting part of the historic center of Prague underwater and resulting in 50,000 residents being ordered to evacuate, as rivers swelled by near constant rain. The death toll from the floods, which ravaged East and Central Europe, including Germany and Austria, and southern Russia, was more than 110. The flooding caused billions of dollars worth of damage. The floods helped propel Germany’s chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to re-election because of his management of the crisis. In Austria, the Salzach River burst its banks south of Salzburg and threatened to inundate the city at the height of its famous summer festival, forcing the authorities to close most bridges and major roads. Floodwaters rose in Hungary and Germany, and in northern Austria the authorities halted river traffic on parts of the Danube.
Was the flooding caused by climate change?
Tying a single weather event to climate change requires extensive attribution analysis, and that takes time, but scientists know one thing for sure: Warmer air holds more moisture, and that makes it more likely that any given storm will produce more precipitation.
For every 1 Celsius degree of warming, in fact, air can hold 7 percent more moisture.
On average, the world has warmed by a little more than 1 degree Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century, when societies began pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“Any storm that comes along now has more moisture to work with,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “That’s the straightforward connection to the increased frequency of heavy downpours.”
And, although it is still a subject of debate, some scientists say climate change might be causing storms to linger longer.
Some studies suggest that rapid warming in the Arctic is affecting the jet stream. One consequence of that, said Hayley Fowler, a professor of climate change impacts at Newcastle University in England, is that the river of wind is weakening and slowing down at certain times during the year, including summer. And that, in turn, affects weather systems farther south.
“That means the storms have to move more slowly,” Dr. Fowler said. The storm that caused the flooding was practically stationary, she noted.
The combination of more moisture and a stalled storm system means a lot of rain can fall over a given area.
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, one of the primary scientists with World Weather Attribution, a group that quickly analyzes specific extreme weather events to see whether they were made more likely, or not, by climate change, said the group was discussing whether they would study the German floods.
Beyond the speed of a weather system and its moisture content, there are many factors that affect flooding that can make an analysis difficult. Local topography has to be taken into account, as that can affect how much runoff gets into which rivers.
Human impacts can complicate the analysis even further. Development near rivers, for instance, can make runoff worse by reducing the amount of open land that can absorb rain. Infrastructure built to cope with heavy runoff and rising rivers may be under-designed and inadequate.
An increasingly hot, dry and deadly summer has gripped much of the Western United States, with heat claiming lives in the Pacific Northwest and Canada in record numbers, and a deepening drought threatening water supplies — all of which is setting the stage for another potentially catastrophic fire season in California and neighboring states.
A fourth major heat wave was forecast to roast parts of the region again this weekend. It comes two weeks after a record-shattering spate of high temperatures — which scientists said would been virtually impossible without climate change — killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada.
A week ago, Death Valley hit a 130-degree high, matching a reading from last year that may be the highest reliably recorded temperature on earth. Also this past weekend, Las Vegas tied its record high, 117 degrees, and Grand Junction, Colo., topped its previous record, hitting 107 degrees.
At least 67 weather stations from Washington State through New Mexico have recorded their hottest temperatures ever this summer, the National Weather Service said this week. Those records stretched back at least 75 years.
The heat helped drive the rapid growth of a wildfire in southern Oregon, known as the Bootleg Fire, that has burned more than 240,000 acres — about a third the size of Rhode Island, America’s smallest state. The fire, the largest of dozens across the West, has destroyed about two dozen homes, threatens 1,900 more and has set off a wave of evacuations.
The fire also burned across a power line corridor that serves as a major contributor to the electrical grid in California, where officials have issued warnings this week asking residents to conserve power by turning up their thermostats and turning off appliances, or risk rolling blackouts.
One part of the West saw some relief from the crushing heat this week, as monsoon rains fell on the Southwest, including New Mexico and Arizona. But the result was yet another disaster: flash flooding that left some city streets in Arizona awash in muddy water and propelled a torrent of water through part of the Grand Canyon, washing away a camp where about 30 people on a rafting trip were spending the night, killing one.
As the Earth warms from climate change, heat waves are becoming hotter and more frequent. “And as bad as it might seem today,” Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, recently told The New York Times, “this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”
A breach in the dike along the Juliana Canalin the southern Netherlands on Friday was closed by the Dutch military by dumping hundreds of sandbags into the growing hole. Hours before, thousands had been told to evacuate after the dike was breached along thecanal, a 22-mile waterway that regulates the Meuse River.
The river’s water level is at heights not witnessed since 1911, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS reported.
That is no small thing is a water-logged country where taming water has been a matter of survival for centuries and the imperative to keep levels under control is inextricably bound up with Dutch identity.Much of the country sits below sea level and is gradually sinking. Climate change has also exacerbated the twin threats of storms and rising tides.
Residents of the villages of Brommelen, Bunde, Geulle and Voulwames were ordered to evacuate immediately, after initially being told to move to higher floors in their homes. About 10,000 people live in the area.
The local authorities said there was “a large hole” in the dike, prompting fears that the entire area would be flooded. While parts of the area were flooded, a disaster was averted after the breach was closed. NOS said the dike was still unstable and continued to be monitored.
Upriver, near the city of Venlo, evacuations were ordered for whole neighborhoods and surrounding villages, in total10,700 people and 7,100 houses, the municipality said in a tweet. People have until 6 p.m. local time to leave their homes.
Record water levels are moving through the Meuse River, prompting evacuations andfresh inspections of dikes along the river that empties into the North Sea. The river is a key waterway for European shipping connections.
Following flooding in recent decades, the Dutch authorities have designated special areas that can be flooded with excess water when critical levels are reached.
The Netherlands has so far been spared much of the death and destruction that this week’s flooding has caused in Germany and Belgium. But in Valkenburg, a city in the south of the Netherlands with about 16,000 residents, damage was severe. Hundreds of houses were without power, and the center of the city was flooded.
“The damage is incalculable,” Mayor Daan Prevoo of Valkenburg told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. He predicted that repairs would take weeks.
Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock
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Sem Van Der Wal/ANP, via Agence France-Presse
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In Liège, Belgium’s third-largest city, much of the early panic eased on Friday as residents said the waters of the Meuse river seemed to recede, at least a bit.
Fears that a major dam might break led the mayor to call for parts of the city to be evacuated late Thursday. But on Friday, people were allowed back, though they were told to stay away from the river, which was still lapping over its banks.
“The situation is now under control, and people can return to their homes,” Laurence Comminette, the spokeswoman for the mayor, said in an interview. “Of course not everyone can go back, because many homes have been destroyed. But there is no longer an imminent danger of more flooding.”
Georges Lousberg, 78, said he thought the crisis was largely over in the city. “It did not rain much today, and the weather is supposed to be better the rest of the week.”
He said there had been times when the Meuse was even higher, especially before walls were built along its banks. “The worst flooding was in 1926,” he said.
Prasanta Char, 34, a postdoctoral student in physics at the University of Liège, said he had been anxious about rain overnight after the mayor’s evacuation call.
He had gone looking to buy water, but had a hard time because so many stores were closed. He finally found a small convenience store in the shuttered city.
“It’s much worse in Germany, and a lot of the roads are shut and the trains are stopped,” he said, “I’m still a bit anxious about rain, but today it seems better.”
Forecasts predicting improved weather for Western Europe over the weekend offered some hope amid the deluge, potentially aiding search-and-rescue efforts in areas devastated by floods.
The heavy rain in Germany in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate was forecast to let up later Friday and over the weekend, after flooding left 1,300 people unaccounted for in the region. Emergency workers put sandbags in place to stem the rising waters in the region’s remote villages, like Schuld, where heavy flows of water washed away six homes and left more close to collapse.
On Saturday and Sunday, there is about a 20 percent chance of rain in that area, and temperatures are expected to rise above 70 degrees Fahrenheitwith partial sunshine later in the day, according to Weather.com. Conditions are likewise expected to improve in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, also in western Germany, where at least 43 people have died in the flooding.
Andreas Friedrich, a meteorologist for Germany’s national weather service, said that dry, sunny weather was likely over the next few days in the western states hit by floods. The weather service has issued a warning about possible floods in the touristy area of southeastern Germany, north of the Alps, over the weekend, but conditions are not expected to be as bad as they were in the western part of the country, he said.
In Belgium, the weather is also expected to clear up over the weekend. The Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium forecast only light rain in the hilly Ardennes region, which experienced heavy flooding over the past few days. In Liège, which was also hard hit, there was a 3 percent chance of precipitation on Saturday, according to the AccuWeather forecasting service.
Alex Dewalque, a spokesman for the meteorological institute, said water levels in the worst-hit parts of Belgium were already falling, making it easier for emergency workers to rescue stranded people and search for casualties. He said the coming days would be much drier and with warmer temperatures, and that there were no flood warnings.
More rain was expected in Switzerland’s northern Alps on Friday, however, and officials warned of more potential flooding in parts of the country. Lake Lucerne reached critical levels, forcing the closing of some bridges and roadways.
Sarah Schöpfer,a meteorologist at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss, said she expected rainfall over the affected areas of Switzerland to lighten.
“We expect that tonight the precipitation activity weakens further and tomorrow it mainly affects the eastern Swiss Alps (mainly regions that did not get the highest amounts of rain during the last few days),” she said in an email. “So apart from the last showers today and tomorrow, the following days will be dry.”
The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.
On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.
There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.
At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.
senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.
Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.
“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”
The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.
batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.
Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.
become more common in recent years.
Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.
After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.
Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.
“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”
working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.
But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.
Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.
2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.
Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.
One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.
Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.
$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.
Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.
Building power lines is hard.
Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.
Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.
This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.
But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.
set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.
“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”