Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler (Germany) (AFP)
German rescuers were still searching for hundreds of people missing on Friday after the worst flooding in living memory killed nearly 60 people in the west of the country.
“I’m afraid we won’t see the full extent of the disaster until the next few days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said from Washington, where she met President Joe Biden.
Catching residents of several regions by surprise and leaving in their wake destruction and despair, the bodies of water have been dubbed “the deluge of death” by the successful daily Bild.
Neighboring Belgium has counted at least nine dead, while Luxembourg and the Netherlands have also been hit hard by the torrents of water, with thousands evacuated in the city of Maastricht.
But Germany’s toll was by far the highest at 59, and is expected to rise with large numbers of people still missing in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, the hardest-hit states.
In the devastated Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate, around 1,300 people were missing, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged telephone networks.
Regional Home Secretary Roger Lewentz told SWR that “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 ”.
# photo1 ″ The number of victims will probably continue to increase in the coming days, ”he added.
– ‘Catastrophe’ –
In addition, persistent rains are forecast in parts of the west, where the water levels of the Rhine and its tributaries are rising dangerously.
About 1,000 troops have been deployed to assist with rescue and clearance operations in the affected towns and villages.
Streets and houses underwater, overturned cars and uprooted trees were visible wherever the floodwaters had passed, while some neighborhoods were cut off from the outside world.
In Ahrweiler, several houses collapsed completely, leaving the impression that the city had been hit by a tsunami.
At least 20 people had been confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-hit towns just to the north.
# photo2 Its normally pristine center had been turned into a heap of rubble, with house facades blown off by the precipitous floods.
Adding to the city’s woes, a nearby dam is in danger of giving way.
“My empathy and heart goes out to all of those who have lost loved ones in this disaster, or who are still concerned about the fate of those still missing,” Merkel told reporters in Washington.
She 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”.
Retired Annemarie Mueller, 65, watching her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen was completely unprepared for destruction.
“Where does all this rain come from?” It’s crazy, ”she told AFP, recalling the flood that hit her street overnight.
“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door. “
Four people are still missing in Belgium and the army has been sent to four of the country’s ten provinces to help with relief and evacuations.
With houses under water since Wednesday, the inhabitants of the seaside resort of Spa were installed in tents.
The swollen Meuse “will prove to be very dangerous for Liège”, a neighboring city of 200,000 inhabitants, declared Walloon regional president Elio Di Rupo.
– Climate change? –
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 poorly drained urban areas and buildings located in flood zones, the damage can be significant.
Political candidates were quick to start a climate bidding war after the floods.
North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Armin Laschet, a conservative candidate for Merkel’s succession, called for “accelerating” global efforts to tackle climate change, stressing the link between global warming and extreme weather conditions.
© 2021 AFP