One dead, one missing after floods sweep through Bavarian hiking trail

Emergency services have recovered the body of a woman in southern Bavaria after heavy rainfall caused a bridge in a tourist spot to collapse on Monday afternoon, causing people to be swept away by the tide. One person is still missing.

One dead, one missing after floods sweep through Bavarian hiking trail
Employees of the emergency services search for the missing in the alpine southern regions on Bavaria, near the Austrian border, on Monday, August 16th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

According to media reports, a tidal wave rushed through the Höllentalklamm gorge in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen during the torrential downpour, sweeping away several people. Eight were brought to safety by rescue workers.

READ ALSO: Flood waters sweep people away in Bavaria bridge collapse

Six of them were rescued from the ravine where they had been trapped by the floods, while two others were brought to safety from further up the gorge. They were soaked through and suffering from hypothermia, but otherwise well, a police spokesman told DPA on Monday evening.

However, eyewitnesses reported that two people were unable to be rescued after the wooden bridge they were standing on collapsed due to the force of the tide. 

More than 160 rescuers were deployed to search for the missing people, including specially trained canyon rescuers from the mountain rescue service and four helicopters. On Monday evening, the search had to be broken off after nightfall.

Body of a woman recovered

The search continued again on Tuesday morning from 7:30am. At 8:30am, according to police, the body of a woman was spotted lifeless in the water and subsequently recovered by the mountain rescue services.

Though the woman is presumed to be one of the two missing people who were spotted on the collapsed bridge, further investigations into the identity and circumstances of the death are being carried out by officers of the criminal investigation department.

Now, the search continues for the other missing person. Rescuers are said to be looking for pieces of evidence, such as scraps of clothing, under the collapsed bridge.

READ ALSO: Clean-up underway in Bavaria after heavy floods wreak havoc

According to head of rescue operations Hans Steinbrecher, the hunt for the missing has been made more difficult due to the hazardous and wet conditions in the flooded gorge.

“In the gorge itself, nobody can enter the water – not even the rescuers,” he told told “That would also be fatal for them.”

A beloved hiking spot

The incident took place high in the alps near the Austrian border, where several famous hiking routes weave through the mountains. 

Tens of thousands of people hike through the Höllentalklamm gorge every year, with most visitors flocking to the hiking hotspot in summer.

With its waterfalls and steep rock faces, the gorge is not only a popular spot for photographs, but also a well-trodden route up to Germany’s highest mountain, the 2962-metre-high Zugspitze.

After Monday’s floods, the route up to the Höllentalklamm has been blocked off until further notice.

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Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

Parts of Germany were once again pummelled by heavy thunderstorms on Monday - just days after the city of Paderborn was struck by a devastating tornado.

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

A severe weather warning was issued on Sunday by the German Weather Service (DWD), who cautioned residents in western and southwestern regions of the country that fierce gusts of wind, hailstones and heavy rain could once again be on the horizon.

A  second tornado could “not be ruled out” in the southwestern regions of the country, DWD warned. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, were struck by heavy rain and hailstorms and strong gusts of wind throughout the afternoon.

However, the worst of the thunder and hailstorms warnings were for the state of Baden-Württemberg. 

Here, DWD issued a Stage 3 weather warning – the second highest possible. Severe thunderstorms with gale-force winds at speeds of up to 110km per hour were forecast, with up to 50 litres of rain per square metre falling in a short space of time.

According to the meteorologists, the storms are expected sweep across to the eastern regions of the country and ease off in the evening.

The storms and severe weather warnings came days after the city of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a devastating tornado.

According to the local fire brigade, 43 people were injured in the storm, with 13 of them needing to be hospitalised and one person reportedly fighting for their life. 

Railway services were cancelled across many parts of the west over the weekend, but resumed again on Monday.

Air travel in some parts of the country was also affected, with Frankfurt Airport in the central state of Hesse saying there was disruption to flights on Friday. 

Videos posted on social media depicted the strongest part of the tornado tearing through the city, ripping trees up by their roots.

The damage to infrastructure and buildings caused by the storm is estimated to be in the millions.

Schools remain closed

As of Monday, several schools and nurseries remained closed in both Paderborn and nearby Lippstadt due to fears that the buildings couldn’t be safely entered.

In the small town of Lippstadt alone, five nurseries and seven schools were closed for repairs on Monday, with administrators unable to say when they would reopen their doors.

“Given the extent of the damage we see at the various locations, it is currently unthinkable that classes can be held there in the next few days,” said Mayor Arne Moritz (CDU).

In Paderborn, meanwhile, drones were exploring five closed school buildings to check whether there was a risk of damaged roofs imploding. The streets where the schools are located have been closed off to the public and the police are believed to be patrolling outside to stop anyone entering.

READ ALSO: Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Damaged roof in Paderborn

A damaged roof in the aftermath of the Paderborn storms. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

More frequent tornadoes? 

Tornadoes aren’t infrequent in Central Europe, but recently appear to be gaining in frequency and intensity, which experts suggest could be a result of climate change. 

In June 2021, a deadly tornado swept through several villages in the Czech Republic near the Slovakian and Austrian borders, killing six people and injuring a further 200. 

At time, climatologists pointed out that until 2020, the Czech Republic only saw a handful of tornadoes each year – and most of them were relatively mild.

Speaking to WDR on Sunday, climate researcher Dr. Mojib Latif drew a direct parallel between warmer temperatures and more violent and regular storms.  

“In Germany there are approximately between 20 and 40 tornadoes per year,” he told the regional media outlet. “We have to reckon with that. As the climate gets warmer and thunderstorms become more violent, the frequency of tornadoes will also increase.”

However, some experts have been more cautious about drawing a direct link.

“That simply cannot be determined at the moment,” meteorologist Jürgen Schmidt told RND. 

Schmidt thinks the perception that tornadoes have increased in recent years could have a slightly more prosaic explanation.

The fact that people are able to record them on their smartphones and share these images more widely could contribute to this impression, he said. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard