Devastating floods in Germany have left more than 80 dead, including dozens in a single district, as Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her deep sympathy for the victims of a “catastrophe” the scale of which will only be visible in the next days.
German media reported on Friday morning that at least 81 people had died in the two worst-affected states, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, with 50 and at least 30 deaths, respectively.
On Thursday evening, authorities in Ahrweiler district said the death toll is expected to rise and they are trying to locate around 1,300 missing people, although the high figure is due to damaged mobile phone networks.
Regional Home Secretary Roger Lewentz told SWR: “We think there are still 40, 50 or 60 people missing, and when you haven’t heard from people for so long … You must fear the worst. “
“The number of victims will probably continue to increase in the coming days,” he added.
In the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler alone, more than 1,000 rescue missions were carried out on Thursday, some of them underway.
More than 1,000 emergency service personnel were assisting the district, from across the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and neighboring states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg. It was too early to assess the extent of the damage, Ahrweiler officials said.
The dead in Rhineland-Palatinate include nine residents of an assisted living facility for the disabled and two firefighters involved in rescue efforts. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the city of Euskirchen has been the most affected, with at least 15 deaths reported.
The death toll in Belgium has risen to at least 11, according to Belgian reports.
Continued rains are forecast in parts of the west, where the water levels of the Rhine and its tributaries are rising dangerously. Authorities in Rhine-Sieg County in North Rhine-Westphalia have ordered the evacuation of several villages downstream of the Steinbach reservoir, fearing a dam could break.
Malu Dreyer, governor of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, told the regional parliament: “There are dead, there are missing, there are many who are still in danger… We have never seen one. such disaster. It is truly devastating.
Speaking at the White House on a trip to Washington, Merkel called the day “characterized by fear, despair, suffering, and hundreds of thousands of people suddenly faced disaster.”
“My empathy and heart goes out to all those who in this disaster lost their loved ones, or who are still worried about the fate of those still missing,” she said, noting that many people in Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also suffering.
Merkel said her government would not leave those affected “alone with their suffering”, adding that it was doing “everything possible to help them in their distress”.
Standing by his side for a press conference after holding bilateral talks, US President Joe Biden called the flooding a tragedy.
“I want to express to you and the German people my sincere condolences and the condolences of the American people for the loss of life and the devastating destruction caused by the flooding of the past 24 hours in Germany and neighboring countries,” Biden said. .
Unusually heavy rains from a slow low pressure system flooded four countries, causing rivers to overflow and streets in towns and villages to be flooded, while power was cut for hundreds of thousands of homes .
The storms put climate change back at the center of the German election campaign ahead of the parliamentary poll on September 26 marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power. Germany “needs to prepare much better” for the future, said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, adding that “these extreme weather conditions are a consequence of climate change”.
In Germany, desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled overhead. In the town of Schuld in the Eifel Mountains, 70 people were reported missing after several houses collapsed overnight.
“It was catastrophic,” said Edgar Gillessen, 65, whose family home was damaged. “All these people who live here, I know them all. I’m so sorry for them, they lost everything, ”he told Reuters. “A friend had a workshop there, nothing standing, the bakery, the butcher’s, let’s go. It’s scary. Unimaginable. “
The full extent of the damage in the area remains uncertain after many villages were cut off by floods and landslides that made roads impassable. Videos posted on social media showed cars floating through the streets and partially collapsed houses.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help, and Pope Francis sent condolences, his office saying the pontiff prayed for the wounded and missing, as well as for those who lost their means of subsistence.