Some 143 people have died in flooding from Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century. This included around 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or inaccessible as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.
Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
“Everything is completely destroyed. You don’t recognize the landscape, ”said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to Erftstadt, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster left at least 45 dead.
“We mourn with those who have lost friends, acquaintances, family members,” he said. “Their fate tears our hearts apart. “
About 700 residents were evacuated on Friday evening after a dam burst in the town of Wassenberg, near Cologne, authorities said.
But the mayor of Wassenberg, Marcel Maurer, said water levels had stabilized since the night. “It is too early to give the green light, but we are cautiously optimistic,” he said.
However, the Steinbachtal dam in western Germany remained threatened with rupture, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from houses downstream.
Steinmeier said it would be weeks before the full damage, which is expected to require several billion euros in reconstruction funds, can be assessed.
Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia and candidate of the ruling CDU party in the September general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to travel to Rhineland-Palatinate, the state home to the devastated village of Schuld, on Sunday.
In Belgium, the death toll has risen to 27, according to the national crisis center, which coordinates the rescue operation there.
He added that 103 people were “missing or inaccessible”. Some were probably inaccessible because they could not charge their mobile phones or were in the hospital without identification papers, the center said.
Cut off communities
In recent days, flooding, which mainly affected the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, cut entire communities off from electricity and communications.
Germany’s largest power producer said on Saturday that its surface mine in Inden and the coal-fired power plant in Weisweiler had been massively affected, adding that the plant was operating at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern provinces of Belgium, Luxembourg and Namur, the authorities rushed to provide drinking water to households.
Flood levels have slowly declined in the worst affected regions of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged goods. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
Belgian rail network manager Infrabel has published repair plans for the lines, some of which will not be put back into service until the end of August.
High alert in the Netherlands
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages in the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of locals have been evacuated over the past two days, as soldiers, firefighters and volunteers worked frantically through Friday night to enforce levees and prevent flooding .
The Netherlands have so far escaped a neighbor-wide disaster and as of Saturday morning no casualties were reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in the relentless precipitation will take at least several weeks of research, scientists said Friday.