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WEATHER

‘Where did this rain come from?’ Germany in shock after deadly flooding

Residents in parts of Germany hit by extreme weather are dealing with major flooding that's killed at least 59 people and left dozens missing in one of the country's worst weather disasters yet.

'Where did this rain come from?' Germany in shock after deadly flooding
Residents in the village of Schuld, Ahrweiler, on Thursday after the devastating storm hit. At least six houses were destroyed by the floods Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

The scale of the catastrophe began to unfold throughout the day as the death toll rose. Police on Thursday night said at least 59 people had died and more were missing. 

Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as helicopters circled above to rescue them from the rising waters.

The states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) were worst hit by the heavy rainstorms which have caused rivers to burst their banks and threatened to bring down further homes.

LATEST: Floods leave several dead and many missing in western Germany

Pensioner Annemarie Müller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen, Rhineland-Palatinate, had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Nobody was expecting this, where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down.”

NRW state leader Armin Laschet cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to visit the scene in his state, Germany’s most populous.

“The situation is alarming,” Laschet told German daily Bild at one of the crisis areas,  “People are still missing.

“I’ve talked to many residents who’ve lost everything virtually overnight.”

The flooding affected several towns including Bad Münstereifel in NRW. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/B&S 

Laschet promised “quick help” to those who needed it, saying that Germany “will do everything” to support people.

“We will stand by the towns and people who’ve been affected,” Laschet, wearing rubber boots and a white shirt, told reporters in the town of Hagen.

IN PICTURES: Torrential rain leaves trail of destruction across western Germany

Andreas Friedrich, of the German Weather Service said some areas hadn’t seen this much rainfall “in 100 years”.

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 a parliament session. 

“There are dead, there are missing, there are many who are still in danger,” Dreyer said solemnly. “It’s really devastating.” Entire towns are flooded, she said, adding that houses “floated away”.

She said police helicopters were out trying to rescue people. Families have been struggling to reach people because many of the mobile phone networks are down.

Which areas are worst affected?

This situation is still developing but here’s what we know so far.  In North Rhine-Westphalia at least 31 people have died, while neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate said nine more deaths were likely in addition to 19 recovered in the region around the western town of Ahrweiler alone, after the river Ahr burst its banks. 

The small Eifel village of Schuld was hit hard. The village with about 700 inhabitants lies close to the state border with NRW. Floods swept away six houses there. Four people are reported to have died in Schuld. 

A dramatic rescue operation got underway on Wednesday night as dozens of people scrambled to try and reach safety on their roof. More houses are at risk of collapse, authorities said Thursday. 

In the Eifel district of Bitburg-Prüm, several people got trapped in their homes by the deluge of water. There have been no reports of deaths, injuries or missing people so far. A district spokesman reported at least one collapsed house.

In the district of Euskirchen in the south of North Rhine-Westphalia, at least 15 died in the severe storm, according to initial reports. In several places, the situation was still critical on Thursday afternoon. “People are being rescued,” the district administration reported.

In some areas, there is no access to villages and communication is largely down.

Some areas, including Bad Münstereifel have been devastated by the extreme rainfall.

There is also severe flooding in other parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, particularly Solingen and Hagen. Parts of Saarland are also affected. 

Police said two firefighters died on duty – one in Sauerland, north of Bonn, while another firefighter died in NRW.

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DISCOVER GERMANY

8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

If you've had enough of the hot weather in Germany, here are a few places you can go to cool down (and discover more of the country).

8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

Let’s face it: some of us are just not built for the heat. So when temperatures in Germany climb to the late 20s, above 30 – or even just under 40C – there is only one place we want to be: the fridge. 

But there are a few other spots where you can seek shelter from the sweltering heat. With temperatures this week set to climb above 30C in some parts of the country, here’s a look at the areas you can stay cool in and see the sights of Germany. 

READ ALSO: Weather – Germany sees record temperatures

Swim in the sea

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that temperatures are usually cooler by the coast thanks to the sea breeze. 

So we’d recommend heading to a coastal resort in Germany to cool down. At the popular Baltic Sea islands like Rügen, temperatures rarely climb above 25C which is more manageable than the extreme heat that often hits the inland regions. 

READ ALSO: Which regions in Germany have the best (and worst) weather?

Best of all, the Ostsee water temperature is around 17-18C in June, July and August, and it even drops below 15C from September. Perfect for those who like a refreshing dip.

Alternatively you could head to the North Sea coast or islands like Sylt or Juist. The water there is usually a few degrees cooler than at the Baltic Sea. 

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein.

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Get lost in the Oppenheim cellar maze (Kellerlabrynth)

One way to escape the heat is to explore what Germany has to offer below street level. Oppenheim in Rhineland-Palatinate has an amazing network of cellars that people can check out with guided tours. Also known as the ‘city under the city’, visitors can descend several storeys down to a depth of 500 metres, and learn all about the history of the cellar system which dates back hundreds of years.

The temperature is a constant and cool 17C so there’s no chance of overheating. 

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town is a great place to cool down and get a history lesson. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fredrik von Erichsen

Head to the Dechen Cave (Dechenhöhle) in the Sauerland

One of the most beautiful caves on display in Germany, the Dechenhöle in the Sauerland’s Iserlohn in North Rhine-Westphalia is well worth a visit. 

Around 360 metres of the 870 metre long cave have been arranged for visitors to explore, and the light shows look mesmerising. The cave was discovered by two rail workers in 1868 who dropped a hammer into a rock crevice. When they were searching for the tool, they discovered the entrance to the dripstone cave. 

The temperature of the caves is around 10C all year round so it’s ideal for cooling down. In fact, you’ll probably need a jacket.

The illuminated The Dechen Caves in March 2022.

The illuminated Dechenhöle in March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Thissen

Visit a salt mine (Salzbergwerk)

The Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden is the oldest active salt mine in Germany dating back to 1517, but it’s also a unique experience for tourists deep in the Bavarian Alps.

Hop on a miners’ train and travel 650 meters into the mountain, where you’ll find a large salt cathedral and a miner’s slide. The experience includes 3D animations depicting the mining of salt, as well as a boat trip across the underground salt lake. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Explore Berlin underground

If you want to cool down, and learn all about the German capital’s history, dive into Berlin’s underworld and walk through the tunnels and vaults, as part of tours by Berliner Untervelten E.V.

A jackets or a cosy jumper is recommended: the temperature is usually between 8 and 12C.

Explore the Berlin U-Bahn out of the heat.

Explore hidden parts of the Berlin U-Bahn and underground system of tunnels out of the heat. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

Drop into the ice cellar (Eiskellar) in Altenberge

This museum is the former ice-storage and fermentation cellar of the old Beuing Brewery in Altenberge. It showcases the history of the small town in the Münsterland region, and has an eerily beautiful setting. It was once one of the largest underground refrigerators in Europe with temperatures of around 8-10C.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Take a dip in a very cold lake

Getting into any water is a great way to cool down during the hot summer months. But you could take it a step further and head to a very cold lake. 

Funtensee is a karst lake (which means it formed after caves collapsed) on the Steinernes Meer plateau in the stunning Berchtesgaden National Park, and the area is known for low temperatures. In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Germany was on December 24th, 2001, when the mercury dropped to -45,9C at the Funtensee measuring station.

Luckily, it’s not that cold all year round but the water is still pretty chilly in the summer months at around 17 to 18C.

A view of the cold Funtensee.

A view of the cold Funtensee. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Florian Sanktjohanser

Meanwhile, the water temperature at Frillensee, also in Bavaria, doesn’t rise above 10C even in summer. Just dipping your big toe in very cold lakes is enough to cool off.

Climb (or take a cable car) up Germany’s highest mountain

Playing in snow and ice while others sweat? Yes, it’s possible, way up on the Zugspitze glacier, which is part of Germany’s highest mountain, standing at around 2,962 metres above sea level. We recommend taking a tour, which runs from the Sonnalpin glacier restaurant to the edge of the ice on the Northern Schneeferner. The tours are a free service from the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Visitors can take a train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, or the station at Eibsee lake, which runs through the 4.5-km-long Zugspitze Tunnel before hopping on a cable car. If the mood takes you, you could also check out Germany’s highest church on the Zugspitz Plateau. The Maria Heimsuchung Chapel is a great place to reflect after a day of climbing and exploring the mountain.

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