Dozens of people have died and at least 70 are missing after torrential rain triggered some of Europe’s deadliest flooding in years – with homes and cars swept away in Germany and parts of Belgium.
Hardest-hit was western Germany where at least 42 people were killed, spread across its most-populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia and neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate.
The town of Schuld, south of Bonn, was particularly badly affected – with at least 18 killed there and in the nearby town of Ahrweiler with dozens missing when the Ahr river burst its banks and swept away homes even as people sheltered on their rooftops.
Fifteen people also died in the Euskirchen region while two firefighters were killed elsewhere during rescue efforts, with 300 soldiers deployed to help rescue teams today along with helicopters and inflatable boats.
Malu Dreyer, premier of Rhineland-Palatinate state, described the situation as ‘a catastrophe’, adding: ‘There are dead, missing and many still in danger. Our emergency services are in action… and risking their own lives.’
It marks Germany’s deadliest flooding in decades – the closest comparable tragedy struck in 2002 when 21 died in the country, with more than 100 killed in Europe as a whole.
In Belgium, at least four people died including two men who were swept away in the flooding while a 15-year-old girl was also reported missing. Ten houses collapsed near Verviers after the river Vesdre flooded, with residents evacuated from more than 1,000 homes.
Belgian authorities also ordered those living along the waterfront in Liege to evacuate as water levels rose.
‘We have rarely experienced such intense flooding. You have to go back to 1998 to have experienced this,’ mayor of nearby Chaudefontaine Daniel Bacquelaine told RTL radio.
Residents of South Limburg, in the Netherlands, also had to be evacuated after flooding there overnight, though no casualties were reported.
Flooding also hit Switzerland as rivers burst their banks, while similar scenes played out in Luxembourg. French forecasters also issued severe weather warnings for the east of the country today.
GERMANY: At least four people died and dozens more are missing after flooding destroyed large parts of the town of Sculd
GERMANY: Debris from destroyed houses is seen strewn through the city of Schuld after it was hit by flooding overnight
GERMANY: Debris lay in a street after the floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany
GERMANY: The village of Schuld (pictured) was partially destroyed by flooding overnight that swept away six homes killing at least four people – though dozens more have been reported missing
GERMANY: Schuld was badly damaged after the Ahr river which flows around it burst its banks, sending torrents of water through the streets which then swept away houses and cars
GERMANY: The village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler is destroyed after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
The entire village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler is destroyed after heavy flooding of the river Ahr,
GERMANY: A digger moves debris including a smashed-up car after heavy flooding hit Schuld, in western Germany
GERMANY: A pile of debris including a battered car is seen in the middle of the street in Schuld after it was hit by floods
BELGIUM: A woman wades through a flooded street in Liege after heavy rains hit the area and caused widespread flooding
BELGIUM: People evacuate their flooded homes in the city of Liege, Belgium, after torrential rains left their street underwater
NETHERLANDS: The fire brigade evacuate people from their homes in South Limburg, the Netherlands, after towns were flooded amid torrential rain
SWITZERLAND: People rush to remove their belongings from a flooded campsite in Ottenbach after the nearby Reuss river burst its banks amid heavy downpours
SWITZERLAND: The village square of Stansstad, near the city of Lucerne, is seen underwater with residents forced to walk across raised platforms after heavy rain hit Europe
SWITZERLAND: Tents and caravans stand on the flooded Reussbruecke campsite, in Ottenbach, Switzerland
An armoured vehicle rolls through the streets close to Hagen, Germany, after the army was drafted in to help flood victims
A car is seen covered in rubble in the German town of Hagen, south of Dortmund, after it was hit by flooding overnight
Damaged cars are seen along a street in Hagen, western Germany, after flooding washed tons of rubble down the street
Debris of houses and cars after flooding in Schuld, Germany
A woman cleans a shop entrance after flooding in the town of Bad Muenstereifel, south of the city of Bonn and located along the banks of the Erft river
Emergency crews join the cleanup operation after downpours overnight in Hagen, Germany, triggered flash flooding
Damaged houses are seen along the Ahr river in Insul, western Germany, after it broke its banks overnight
Due to heavy rain falls the Ahr river dramatically went over its banks overnight Wednesday, demolishing nearby homes
A damaged car is seen in Insul at the Ahr river, western Germany, after being swept away in the flood
A car rests on its roof after being swept away in floodwaters at Insul, on the banks of the Ahr river, Germany
The village of Schuld was among the worst-hit overnight with dozens reported missing after houses there collapsed
An overturned tractor and wrecked Mercedes are among debris left strewn through the city of Schuld after it was hit by floods
Local residents inspect collapsed houses after heavy flooding of the river Ahr, in Schuld, Germany
A gnome is seen perched on top of a pile of debris after it buried a car in Hagen, western Germany, overnight
The worst-hit areas were in western Germany, where torrential rain and flash flooding caused rivers to burst their banks and sweep away houses killing at least 42
The flooding took place after particularly heavy downpours overnight which fell onto sodden ground that had already been drenched through Tuesday and Thursday.
That sparked flash flooding while also causing swollen rivers and lakes to burst their banks.
In Belgium, the Vesdre river broke its banks and sent masses of water churning through the streets of Pepinster, close to Liege, its destructive power bringing down some buildings.
‘Several homes have collapsed,’ mayor Philippe Godin told RTBF network. It was unclear whether all inhabitants had been able to escape unhurt.
In eastern Eupen, on the German border, one man was reported dead after he was swept away by a torrent, a local governor told RTBF network.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is ‘shocked’ by the extent of the ‘devastation’ caused by the flooding.
On a visit to Washington, Merkel said what had occurred as ‘a disaster,’ adding that ‘heavy rain and flooding doesn’t capture what happened.’
‘I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,’ she said. ‘We still don’t know the number. But it will be many.’
She also expressed her condolences to those who had lost loved ones, ‘and we can tell the relatives that everything is being done to find those who are missing.’
At least 135,000 people in Germany were also left without power after torrents of water ripped electricity poles out of the ground.
In the city of Leverkusen, a power outage triggered by the storms led to the evacuation of a hospital with 468 patients. Intensive care patients were moved overnight, with other wards still being cleared today.
Meanwhile police in Stolberg were called to a supermarket, a drug store and a jeweller after looters moved in to ransack the empty properties. One person was arrested.
Another man was reported missing in eastern Belgium, where some towns saw water levels rise to unprecedented levels and had their centers turned into gushing rivers.
The provinces of Liege and Namur were especially affected, with the resort town of Spa completely flooded. In the town of Chaudfontaine, daily Le Soir reported that nearly 1,800 people had to evacuate.
Major highways were inundated and in the south and east of the nation, the railway service said all traffic was stopped.
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.
Local news footage showed small rivers of water flowing through the scenic city centre’s streets and at least one old age home had been evacuated.
Officials also closed off several roads including the busy A2 highway, while fears remained that water from heavy rains in Germany and Belgium would push up river levels as it reached the Netherlands.
Meanwhile the Luxembourg government set up a crisis cell to respond to emergencies triggered by heavy rains overnight as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said ‘several homes’ had been flooded and were ‘no longer inhabitable’.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help those affected.
Stunned onlookers are confronted by an impossible-seeming pile of cars that washed together in Verviers, Belgium, after heavy flooding hit the area overnight
The back end of a house was torn away leaving the interior rooms exposed during flooding in Schuld, Germany
People try to remove the floods from a destroyed house in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany
The village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler is destroyed after heavy flooding of the river Ahr in Germany,
German Army soldiers and local residents try their best to clean up the damage after flooding in Hagen, Germany
People are evacuated from a flood-affected area, following heavy rainfalls in Valkenburg, Netherlands
A rescue boat is carried by a special purpose vehicle in the flooded Ehrang neighbourhood in Trier, western Germany
Firemen are seen during a mission in the Ehrang neighbourhood in Trier, western Germany
Firemen standing on the roof of their vehicle climb into an inundated house in the flooded Ehrang neighbourhood in Trier, western Germany, to try and save the occupants
German army armoured vehicle pulls a truck from the mud after flooding in Hagen, Germany
The Erft river is seen flowing underneath a damaged bridge in the town of Bad Muenstereifel, Germany
Firefighters speak with people next to debris brought by the flood following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Firefighters begin to repair a damaged road after flooding in Schuld, Germany, to assist with rescue efforts
A damaged road and a car after flooding in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany
The gaping hole is left in the back of a building after it was washed away by sudden flooding in Hagen, Germany
A destroyed building is seen at a flood-affected area following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Debris brought by the flood new seen on the street following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Partially submerged vehicles are pictured on a flood-affected area, following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Cars destroyed by flood are pictured on a flood-affected area, following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Collapsed houses are seen on a flood-affected area following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Collapsed buildings are seen on a flood-affected area following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
Firefighters work at a flood-affected area following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
A damaged bridge after flooding in Hagen, Germany
A woman looks at debris brought by the flood next to the Ahr river, following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
A woman wades through floodwaters in the town of Hagen after torrential rain inundated rural areas in western Germany
A policeman (right) carries a baby girl as he helps her mother evacuate from a flooded house in Ensival, Belgium
People look a at a destroyed car and other damages caused by the floods of the Volme river in Priorei, near Hagen
A street running between the towns of Insul and Schuld, in western Germany, was swept away in heavy rains overnight
‘My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and those who have lost their homes,’ she tweeted. ‘The EU is ready to help.’
The full extent of the damage across the region was still unclear after many villages were cut off by floodwater and landslides that made roads impassable.
Videos posted on social media showed cars floating down streets and houses partly collapsed in some places.
Many of the dead were only discovered after floodwaters began to recede again. Police said four people died in separate incidents after their basements were flooded in Cologne, Kamen and Wuppertal, where authorities warned that a dam threatened to burst.
Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbachtal reservoir amid fears the dam there could also break.
A fireman drowned Wednesday during rescue work in the western German town of Altena and another collapsed during rescue operations at a power plant in Werdohl-Elverlingsen.
One man was missing in the eastern town of Joehstadt after disappearing while trying to secure his property from rising waters, authorities said.
Rail connections were suspended in large parts of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. Governor Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in this fall’s German election, was expected to visit the flood-hit city of Hagen later Thursday.
German weather service DWD predicted the rainfall would ease Thursday, though there might still be localized storms.
Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Valkenburg, close to the German and Belgian borders, evacuated a care home and a hospice overnight amid flooding that turned the tourist town’s main street into a river, Dutch media reported.
Caravans and campers under water at the De Hatenboer campsite in Roermond, Netherlands
A campsite that flooded in Roermond, the Netherlands, after the Meuse river broke its banks overnight
An aerial view of the campsite shows how the Meuse river which typically flows behind the line of trees to the top left of the frame broke its banks and flooded the surrounding land
A destroyed car lies in the Ahr river after heavy flooding in Schuld, Germany
The village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler is destroyed after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
A destroyed bridge leads over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany
Damaged cars on a flooded street in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe
Damaged cars on a flooded street in the Belgian city of Verviers
People ride on a trailer as the Dutch fire brigade evacuate people from their homes in South Limburg
A man wades through the water as flooding affects the area after heavy rains in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
A man carries a dog next to debris brought by the flood, following heavy rainfalls in Schuld, Germany
People wade through the water as flooding affects the area after heavy rains in Ensival, Verviers
Emergency workers wade through a flooded road after heavy rains in Ensival, Belgium
A woman looks from a building at a flooded road after heavy rains in Ensival, Belgium
Emergency workers wade through the water as flooding affects the area after heavy rains in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
An excavator is seen on a flooded street in Hagen, Germany
The Ried neighbourhood on Lake Sarnen in the canton of Obwalden is covered with flood water, in Giswil, Switzerland
The village square of Stansstad in the canton of Nidwalden on Lake Vierwaldstaettersee is covered with flood water, in Stansstad, Switzerland
Emergency workers wade through a flooded road after heavy rains in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Cars in the water as flooding affects the area after heavy rains in Ensival, Belgium
A man wades through the water as flooding affects the area after heavy rains in Ensival, Belgium
A damaged bridge after flooding in Hagen, Germany, where the military is now helping with rescue efforts
Evacuated residents of a care home sit inside a bus as they are taken to a reception location, in the municipality of Valkenburg aan de Geul, South Limburg region, the Netherlands
Police officers in an army vehicle evacuate residents of a care home, in the municipality of Valkenburg aan de Geul, South Limburg region, the Netherlands
Ambulance personnel and police officers stand inside an army vehicle to evacuate residents of a care home, in the municipality of Valkenburg aan de Geul, South Limburg region, the Netherlands
Armin Laschet, State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, speaks to the media after flooding in his state and neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate left at least 20 dead and 70 missing
The Dutch government sent some 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg late Wednesday to help with tasks including transporting evacuees and filling sandbags as rivers burst their banks.
A section of one of the Netherlands’ busiest highways was closed due to rising floodwaters threatening to inundate the road and Dutch media showed a group of holidaymakers being rescued from a hotel window with the help of an earth mover.
Unusually intense rains have also inundated a swath of northeast France this week, downing trees and forcing the closure of dozens of roads.
A train route to Luxembourg was disrupted, and firefighters evacuated dozens of people from homes near the Luxembourg and German border and in the Marne region, according to local broadcaster France Bleu.
The equivalent of two months of rain has fallen on some areas in the last one or two days, according to the French national weather service. With the ground already saturated, the service forecast more downpours Thursday and issued flood warnings for 10 regions.
Meanwhile, high temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher were expected Thursday in parts of northern Europe.
The night between Wednesday and Thursday was the hottest in history, the Finnish weather service company Foreca said Thursday with the mercury reaching 24.2 Celsius degrees (75.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Greta Thunberg, the climate activist, tweeted that the extreme weather of recent days should not be regarded as ‘the new normal.’
‘We’re at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent,’ she said on Twitter.