‘Several’ people have died in a landslide which hit a flood-damaged town in Germany as the death toll from the country’s worst flooding crisis in decades topped 100 with some 1,300 people missing.
Homes and part of a castle in the town of Blessem, near Cologne, were demolished on Friday as waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit – ‘certainly’ causing deaths, though officials were unable to immediately say how many.
A rescue operation is now underway to try and evacuate at least 15 people stranded in the town amid fears of a further collapse, with helicopters brought in to airlift them to safety. Some 55 residents had been evacuated overnight due to flooding but an unknown number returned today to examine the damage, officials said.
The national death toll from flooding now stands at 103 spread across the states of North-Rhine Westphalia and Rhineland Palatinate, though most were concentrated in the district of Ahrweiler, south of Bonn.
Towns and villages in that district were almost completely destroyed overnight Wednesday when the Ahr river burst its banks – sweeping away homes even as terrified people sheltered inside, with officials warning the death toll there is likely to keep rising.vc x
The flood is one of the deadliest to hit Germany in modern history, with one of the only comparable tragedies coming in 1962 when more than 300 died in flooding in Hamburg.
‘I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,’ Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a grim warning issued from Washington, as newspaper Bild branded it the ‘flood of death’.
Meanwhile at least 15 people died in neighbouring Belgium with thousands of homes evacuated in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland as rivers burst their banks.
And there were fears the unfolding disaster could get even worse as people living below the Steinbach reservoir were evacuated amid warnings the dam could burst, while more rain forecast for the west of Germany threatened to raise the Rhine river to dangerous levels.
A landslide in the flood-damaged town of Blessem, near Cologne, killed ‘several’ people on Friday as Germany’s worst flooding crisis in decades continued to worsen
The death toll in Germany from the flooding had already topped 80 even before the landslide hit Blessem, sweeping away homes and part of a castle
Officials said the landslide in Blessem had ‘certainly’ killed people though were unable to immediately say how many amid chaos caused by Germany’s deadliest flooding crisis for decades
Water drains away from the town of Blessem, Germany, after a landslide caused part of the ground to collapse (top left and centre), killing ‘several’ people on Friday
Cars lie crumpled against concrete blocks that once formed part of the sewer system after the ground gave way due to a landslide in Blessem, Germany
Collapsed ground is seen near the village of Blessem, Germany, after flooding caused a landslide which killed ‘several’ people
The collapse in Blessem was triggered when flooding around the Erft River caused waterlogged soil to collpase into a nearby gravel pit (bottom of frame), taking homes and cars with it
An aerial image shows the extent of flood damage in Shuld, a town in the Ahrweiler region of Germany, which was hardest-hit by flooding which swept away homes overnight Wednesday
Rescue crews are now sifting through rubble in the Ahrweiler region (town of Shuld, pictured) where 1,300 people are missing amid warnings the death toll could rise considerably
An aerial picture taken with a drone shows the destroyed village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
Dozens have died and more than 1,000 people are missing after Germany was hit by some of the deadliest flooding in the country’s modern history
Damaged cars pile up on a street after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
A local surveys the damage caused by flooding in Bad Neuenahr, in Ahrweiler district, where most of the missing hail from
People carry their belongings past a broken road in Schuld, Germany
People walk past rubble in a street devastated by the floods in Euskirchen, western Germany
A lobster walks down the street in Schuld, Germany, after it was washed into the town on floodwaters that inundated the river
Hampering search efforts was the collapse of mobile phone and internet networks in the Ahrweiler region after telephone poles and transmitter masts were swept away, making it difficult to track down the missing.
Roads were also swept away or blocked by debris including trees and cars, cutting off entire villages as the army deployed helicopters to pluck people off rooftops.
Retreating floodwaters exposed some dead bodies to rescue teams, while divers were also used to enter flooded houses and search for the missing.
Regional interior minister Roger Lewentz said that some of the dead had initially evacuated their homes, returned to try and bail out basements believing the worst was over, only to then become trapped as the water rose again.
He told broadcaster SWR that ‘we believe there are still 40, 50 or 60 people missing, and when you haven’t heard for people for such a long time… you fear the worst.’
‘The number of victims will likely keep rising in the coming days,’ he added.
Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, blamed the extreme weather on global warming during a visit to a hard-hit area.
‘We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures… because climate change isn’t confined to one state,’ he said.
EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen also attributed the destruction to climate change – coming just a day after the bloc put forward plans to slash carbon emissions by 2050.
‘It is the intensity and the length of the events that science tells us this is a clear indication of climate change and that this is something that really, really shows the urgency to act,’ von der Leyen told reporters.
Around 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to help with rescue operations and rubble-clearing in affected towns and villages.
Meanwhile police in North Rhine-Westphalia said they had arrested five people suspected of looting from evacuated towns, including one man found inside a jewelery store and two women in a supermarket.
Streets and houses under water, overturned cars and uprooted trees could be seen everywhere the floodwaters had passed, while some districts were cut off from the outside world.
In Ahrweiler several houses collapsed completely, leaving the impression the town had been struck by a tsunami.
A man tries to cleans his garden of mud and other debris in Schuld, Germany, after devastating floods
Debris hangs on a damaged bridge over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, two days after devastating floods hit
Firefighters rest next to debris of houses in Schuld, Germany, after a two-day rescue operation that is far from complete
A van crushed by the torrents is pressed against a tree after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
People climb over rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
Military medics move through the town of Erftstadt, Germany, to help the victims of some of the deadliest flooding the country has seen in decades
Lifeguards and police divers with an inflatable boat go into a flooded home in Erftstadt, Germany, as they search for victims
A car sits atop a mountain of debris washed that piled up against the side of a house in the Ahrweiler district of Germany
A collapsed building is pictured after a flood in Schuld, Germany
A fire truck drives through a flooded street following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt, Germany
Locals in the town of Erftstadt, Germany, help to fill sandbags to block rising floodwaters amid forecasts of more rain
A road is completely destroyed near Blessem, Germany, after landslides caused by flooding
A couple hug as they survey the damage caused by severe flooding in Bad Neuenahr after the Ahr river burst its banks
A heavy and slow-moving rainstorm hit western Germany overnight Wednesday, moving through Belgium and the Netherlands into northern Switzerland, falling on already-soaked ground and causing flash floods with rivers bursting their banks
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was ‘stunned’ by the devastation and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.
‘In the hour of need, our country stands together,’ he said in a statement. ‘It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.’
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 60 people had died there, including at least nine residents of an care home for people with disabilities.
In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state, officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could rise further.
Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming.
‘We’ve experienced droughts, heavy rain and flooding events several years in a row, including in our state,’ she told the Funke media group. ‘Climate chance isn’t abstract any more. We are experiencing it up close and painfully.’
She accused the Mr Laschet and Ms Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.
The downpours were the heaviest seen in the region during summer for at least 100 years, according to the Washington Post.
One weather station, at Köln-Stammheim, recorded more than six inches of rain in just 24 hours – obliterating the previous record of less than four inches.
Thousands of people remain homeless after their houses were destroyed or deemed at risk by authorities, including several villages around the Steinbach reservoir that experts say could collapse under the weight of the floods.
The German army has deployed 900 soldiers to help with the rescue and clear-up effort.
Across the border in Belgium, most of the drowned were found around Liege, where the rains hit hardest. Skies were largely overcast in eastern Belgium, with hopes rising that the worst of the disaster was over.
In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 0.7-mile stretch of dyke along the Maas river and police helped evacuate some low-lying neighbourhoods.
Residents clean up houses after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up houses after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
People stand next to a partially flooded street, following heavy rainfalls, in Trooz, Belgium
A partially-destroyed house sits beside the La Vesdre river in Verviers, Belgium, after it broke its banks and swept away part of the building
Debris swept along by the La Vestre river is seen dumped on the bank in Verviers, Belgium, after floodwaters receded
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival
Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte said on Thursday night that the government was officially declaring flood-hit regions a disaster area, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation for damage.
King Willem-Alexander visited the region on Thursday night and called the scenes ‘heart-breaking’.
Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to break their banks.
Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen late on Thursday.
Four people are still missing in Belgium and the army has been sent to four of the country’s 10 provinces to help with rescue and evacuations.
With homes under water since Wednesday, people from resort town Spa were being put up in tents.
The swollen Meuse river ‘is going to look very dangerous for Liege’, a nearby city of 200,000 people, said Wallonia regional president Elio Di Rupo.
The storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a September 26 parliamentary poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.
Germany ‘must prepare much better’ in future, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, adding that ‘this extreme weather is a consequence of climate change’.
Because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, climate change increases the risk and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall.
In urban areas with poor drainage and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be severe.
Political candidates were quick to open a bidding war on climate following the floods.
North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, the conservative running to succeed Merkel, called for ‘speeding up’ global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.
A man standing next to a destroyed car takes pictured of the devastated area after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
A vehicle and wreckage lie on the river, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium, where at least 11 people have died
Damaged vehicles are parked on the street, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium
Vehicles and wreckage are seen on the street, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium
Wreckage lies on the river, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium