At least 100 dead, dozens missing as severe floods strike Europe
More than 100 people have died and dozens were missing yesterday as severe flooding in Germany and Belgium turned streams and streets into raging torrents that swept away cars and caused houses to collapse.
Among those killed were nine residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities and two firefighters involved in rescue efforts across the region.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Washington, expressing shock at the scope of the flooding.
Speaking alongside United States President Joe Biden at the White House, Merkel said her thoughts were with all those who had lost loved ones or were still searching for them.
“I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days,” she said.
Authorities said at least 50 people died in North Rhine-Westphalia state and 28 in neighbouring RhinelandPalatinate to the south.
Belgian media reported 12 deaths there, with five still missing last night.
Recent storms across parts of western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods after the saturated soil couldn’t absorb any more water.
Among the worst-hit German villages was Schuld, where several homes collapsed and dozens of people remained unaccounted for.
Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads and phone and internet outages across the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys.
Some villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn’t withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the small Ahr River surge in such a deadly torrent. “This night, it was like madness,” he said.
Dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses with inflatable boats and helicopters. Hundreds of soldiers were deployed to assist in the rescue efforts.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
In Belgium, the Vesdre River spilled over its banks and sent water churning through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a rescue operation by firefighters went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared.
“Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed,” said mayor Philippe Godin. “I fear they are dead.”
In Verviers, the prosecutor’s office said several bodies had been found but could not confirm reports that four people were killed there.
In Liege, a city of 200,000, the Meuse River overflowed its banks yesterday and the mayor asked people living nearby to move to higher ground.
The full extent of the damage was still unclear, with many villages cut off by floods and landslides that made roads impassable. Many of the dead were only discovered after floodwaters receded.
Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbach reservoir amid fears a dam could break.
Armin Laschet, the governor of North-Rhine Westphalia state, paid tribute to two firefighters who died and pledged swift help.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we won’t leave the communities, the people affected alone,” he said during a visit to the city of the flood-hit city of Hagen.
Laschet, a conservative who is running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in the upcoming election, said the unusually heavy storms and an earlier heat wave could be linked to climate change.
Political opponents have criticised Laschet, the son of a miner, for supporting the region’s coal industry and hampering the expansion of wind power during his tenure.
In the Netherlands, King WillemAlexander and Queen Maxima visited the hard-hit Dutch town of Valkenburg on Thursday evening to support residents and emergency services. Flooding turned the main street into a torrent of brown water, inundating homes and businesses.
The Dutch Government sent about 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg on Thursday to help with evacuations and filling sandbags.
Thousands of people in the city of Maastricht and villages along the Maas River were ordered to evacuate yesterday amid threats of flooding, and centres were set up to house them. The Maas is the Dutch name for the Meuse River.
In northeastern France, heavy rains flooded vegetable fields, many homes and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
The Aire River rose to its highest levels in 30 years in some areas, according to the L’Est Republicain newspaper.
The equivalent of two months of rain has fallen over two days, according to the French national weather service, with flood warnings issued for 10 regions.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, but forecasters warned of mudslides and more rain today.