Two Swiss firemen have been killed in a landslide as heavy rain caused flooding and cut roads, railway and electricity lines across much of central Switzerland, police and local authorities said overnight. Authorities were keeping an anxious eye on three of Switzerland’s major lakes – Thun, Brienz and Biel – which rose to danger levels as the driving rain continued, police in the canton of Bern said.
Shipping on part of the river Rhine, which flows into Germany and France, was halted because of the swollen waters.
The two dead firemen were trying to clear debris from an earlier incident near the village of Schwaendi when they were caught by a mudslide, police in the canton of Lucerne said.
About 1500 people were evacuated from their homes in central Switzerland after fast-flowing rivers burst their banks. Several villages in the Alpine foothills were cut off by the bad weather.
Landslides and floods cut several railway lines, halting services through the Alps towards Italy, while several main roads were closed, disrupting travel throughout the region.
A low-lying neighbourhood of the Swiss capital Bern was under 50 cm of water after the river Aare overflowed. Inhabitants were evacuated because the strong currents were threatening to sweep away buildings.
The city’s airport was shut after a portion of the runway was flooded, with flights cancelled or rerouted to other parts of Switzerland.
Authorities also issued an alert in the towns of Thun and Sarnen because of the rising waters in nearby lakes.
Three Swiss military helicopters were drafted in to help, and the Swiss army was ready to provide transport and personnel to help civilian fire and rescue services who were already working around the clock, authorities said.
Landslides were also reported further west by Lake Geneva, while emergency services were overwhelmed by calls about flooded cellars and other damage.