At least 19 people have died and many more are missing following severe floods in western Germany, police say. The worst of the flooding has been in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, where buildings and cars have been washed away.
Two people have also died in neighbouring Belgium, while the Netherlands has also been badly hit. It follows record rainfall in parts of western Europe that has caused major rivers to burst their banks.
Malu Dreyer, chief of the Rhineland-Palatinate state, described the flooding as a “catastrophe”.
“There are dead, missing and many people still in danger,” she said. “All of our emergency services are in action round the clock and risking their own lives.” At least 70 people are believed to be missing in the state’s Ahrweiler district, where the Ahr river, which flows into the Rhine, burst its banks.
Police helicopters and hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to some areas to help stranded residents. Earlier, police said dozens of people were waiting on rooftops to be rescued. Some schools have been closed, while rail and road transport links have been severely disrupted.
About 25 houses are in danger of collapsing in the district of Schuld bei Adenau in the Eifel region, where a state of emergency has been declared, according to German broadcaster SWR.
It said some houses had been completely cut-off and could no longer be reached by boat. Four people died in the Eifel region when their homes were swept away in the early hours of Thursday, police said.
Meanwhile, two firefighters died on Wednesday in the neighbouring state of North Rhine-Westphalia. One drowned, while the other reportedly collapsed following a rescue operation. Neighbouring Belgium has also been hit by flash floods, and dramatic video showed cars being swept away along a street in the city of Verviers.
Meanwhile, in the town of Pepinster, 10 houses collapsed after the River Vesdre burst its banks. Almost 2,000 people were forced to evacuate in the town of Chaudfontaine, Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper reported. Rail services in the southern half of Belgium have been suspended because of the extreme weather. In the Netherlands, the province of Limburg has been left heavily flooded following downpours overnight.
Forecast suggest more heavy rain is due in much of western Europe on Thursday and Friday. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, but linking any single event to global warming is complicated.