Dozens dead and more missing after floods hit western Germany

German authorities said Friday morning that at least 81 people had likely died in massive storms and flooding in the west of the country.

Dozens dead and more missing after floods hit western Germany
The River Kyll has burst its banks in Erdorf, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Harald Tittel

Read our most up to date story here: Dozens dead and more missing after flood disaster in Germany

At least 19 people died in the region around the western town of Ahrweiler alone, local officials reported, with the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia hit hardest by the unusually heavy rainstorms afflicting a large swathe of western Europe.

Farther north, the district of Euskirchen in NRW reported 15 dead. Four more victims were found in the municipality of Schuld south of Bonn where houses were swept away by floods. 

Emergency workers struggled to evacuate people in endangered buildings and two firemen were killed in the line of duty in the towns of Altena and Werdohl in NRW. 

Several other bodies were recovered from flooded cellars across the region.

Across parts of affected regions, which is experiencing one of the worst weather disasters since the Second World War, desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled above.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Washington, said she was “shocked” by the humanitarian “disaster”, calling it a “tragedy” for the nation.

She vowed that the government would do “everything in its power to, under the most difficult circumstances, save lives, prevent danger and ease suffering”. 

“We have never seen such a catastrophe, it is truly devastating,” Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer said.


NRW leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to survey the damage and talk to people in his state, which is Germany’s most populous.

“The situation is alarming,” Laschet told German daily Bild. 

He called for “speeding up” global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.

Rescue workers out in helicopters

“The storms hit our state hard,” Rhineland-Palatinate Premier Dreyer had tweeted earlier in the day.

“I am worrying along with everyone who’s in danger,” she said, thanking “all the volunteers, fire fighters and emergency workers fighting tirelessly and with great effort against the deluge”.

Police set up a crisis hotline for people to report missing loved ones and residents were asked to send in videos and photos that could help them in the search.

Rescue workers were deployed in helicopters to pluck desperate people off streets and rooftops.

Regional official Jürgen Pföhleer called on people to stay home “and, if possible, go to higher floors” of their homes.

“The situation is very serious,” he said.  

The German military said it would deploy hundreds of soldiers across the two affected states to assist in rescue efforts.

Farther north in the city of Leverkusen, a power outage triggered by the storms led to the evacuation of a hospital with 468 patients.

City authorities reported that after intensive care patients were moved to other facilities overnight, the other wards would have to be cleared in the course of the day.

The environment ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate warned it expected floodwaters on the Rhine and Moselle rivers to rise with more rainfall.

How did it unfold?

In the Eifel village of Schuld, Rhineland-Palatinate, six houses collapsed on Wednesday night.

“A lot of the people” reported missing were on the roofs of houses that were swept away by floods in the municipality of Schuld, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz said. 

READ ALSO: Germany braces for more torrential rain as some areas hit by severe flooding

The overflowing River Kyll in Erdorf, Rhineland-Palatinate on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Harald Titte

Police said many other houses are unstable and in danger of collapsing. Authorities have declared a disaster situation.

In the Eifel district of Bitburg-Prüm, the situation was still dangerous due to high water on Thursday, according to a district spokesperson.

The entire district of Ahrweiler, Rhineland-Palatinate, was affected by the storm, the police spokesperson said. About 50 people climbed to the roofs of houses and had to be rescued.

On Wednesday night, authorities in Ahrweiler had reported extremely heavy rain. The Koblenz fire brigade along with the Lahnstein Technical Relief Organisation and the Mainz fire brigade, filled hundreds of sandbags. These were brought to the district by six trucks.

People also had to be rescued from the roofs of their caravans at the Stahlhütte campsite in Dorsel (Ahrweiler district) and other sites along the Ahr.

A street in Esch, the Ahrweiler district, was already flooded on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey 

Power cuts and transport chaos

There have also been widespread power cuts. A spokeswoman for the grid operator Westnetz reported on Thursday morning that about 190,000 households were without electricity because stations and other facilities were flooded and had to be shut down. 

In NRW alone, 135,000 households were without power.

Transport has been severely hit by the weather situation, with trains and other transport cancelled or disrupted. 

Deutsche Bahn called on passengers to postpone their journeys to and from North Rhine-Westphalia if possible. Due to line closures, numerous S-Bahn and regional lines are not running or have restrictions in place, DB said. There is also disruption on the Autobahn in the affected areas.

As The Local has been reporting, severe rain and storms have been affecting Germany this week. There were flash floods on Tuesday and flooded areas along both the eastern and western borders of the country. 

“The risk of flooding is growing regionally,” the German Weather Service (DWD) had said. 

A low pressure system is dominating the weather with warm, humid air mass. According to the DWD, the next few days will be changeable with showers and thunderstorms, sometimes with heavy rain.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: What’s going on with Germany’s weather right now?

Neighbouring Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks.

The southern Dutch province of Limburg which is bordered by Germany and Belgium also reported widespread damage with rising waters threatening to cut off the small city of Valkenburg west of Maastricht.

Are you affected by the floods? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

Member comments

  1. It’s insane that one half of the world is being burnt to a crisp, and now it seems the other half is being submerged by these out-of-the-blue floods, during the middle of summer of all seasons; if this isn’t proof of climate change then I don’t know what is at this point. Here’s hoping everyone affected is evacuated quickly and safely.

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For members


Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?