‘Several’ people have died in a landslide which hit a flood-damaged town in Germany on Friday as the death toll from country’s worst flooding crisis in decades topped 90 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 gave way beneath them and had ‘certainly’ caused deaths, though officials were unable to say how many.
Elsewhere the national death toll rose to at least 93 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 the 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.
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
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 the district of Ahrweiler, where most of the missing hail from
People walk past rubble in a street devastated by the floods in Euskirchen, western Germany
A car sits atop a mountain of debris washed that piled up against the side of a house in the Ahrweiler district of Germany after severe flooding
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 courtyard in Erftstadt, Germany, as they search for flood victims
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.
Around 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to help with rescue operations and rubble-clearing in affected towns and villages.
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.
At least 20 people had been confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-hit towns just to the north.
Its normally spick and span centre had been turned into a heap of rubble, with house facades torn off by the rushing floods.
A view of the damage at village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler, where most of the missing hail from, after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
Emergency crews clear up the damage caused by flooding in Schuld, Germany, after the Arh river burst its banks and swept through the village
Two men attempt to clear away a huge pile of debris blocking a street in the village of Schuld, Germany, after severe floods hit the area
Trees, broken pieces of concrete and other debris block a road in the village of Schuld, Germany, as the true extent of flooding damage becomes clear
Firemen prepare to remove an overturned car in the village of Schuld, Germany, after it was washed away during severe flooding
A German army truck drives past a car buried in debris in a flood-damaged town in Germany after 300 soldiers were called in to help with rescue efforts
German soldiers help to evacuate a hospital in the town of Bad Neuenahr after flooding caused power outages, forcing patients to move to different facilities
An elderly patient is assisted by soldiers as she is evacuated from a hospital in Bad Neuenahr
Armoured vehicles roll into a damaged German town after heavy rainfall triggered some of the deadliest flooding in the country’s modern history
A couple hug as they survey the damage caused by severe flooding in the town of Bad Neuenahr after the Arh 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
Adding to the town’s woes, a nearby dam remains at risk of giving way.
‘My empathy and my heart go out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people 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 its ‘utmost to help them in their distress’.
Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.
‘Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,’ she told AFP, recalling the floodwater crashing through her street during the night.
‘It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down, we thought it would break the door down.’
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.
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.
A train sits in the flood waters at the local station in Kordel, Germany, after a nearby river burst its banks and covered the tracks
A car lies half submerged in flood water after heavy rain caused major flooding and damage, in Euskirchen, Germany
Men clear up the damage after severe rainstorms and flash floods hit western states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany
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 on Friday
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 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