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.
- IN PICTURES: Torrential rain leaves trail of destruction across western Germany
- ‘Where did this rain come from?’ Germany in shock after deadly flooding
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Images of Germany’s “catastrophe”, as chancellor Merkel called the severe flooding that has hit western Germany, killing dozens pic.twitter.com/YPnjkwvE3U
— Thomas Sparrow (@Thomas_Sparrow) July 15, 2021
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”.
Malu #Dreyer: Das Unwetter hat unser Land hart getroffen. Ich bange mit allen, die in Gefahr sind. Ich danke allen Helferinnen und Helfern, Feuerwehren und Einsatzkräften, die unermüdlich mit großem Einsatz gegen die Wassermassen kämpfen. 🙏#Hochwasser #Starkregen #RLP
— Landesregierung Rheinland-Pfalz (@rlpNews) July 15, 2021
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.
— Polizei Koblenz (@Polizei_KO) July 15, 2021
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.
❗ Bitte Retweeten & weitersagen❗
Betroffene der #Hochwasser-Katastrophe erhalten Auskunft & Unterstützung:
👉 Polizeipräsidium Koblenz für Angehörige, die jemanden vermissen: 0800 6 56 56 51
👉 Psychosoziale Unterstützung: 0800 001 0218 pic.twitter.com/2xEgG3YJAt
— Landesregierung Rheinland-Pfalz (@rlpNews) July 15, 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
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