As a result of the devastating flooding in Germany, according to the latest official figures, more than 80 people died, more than 1,300 were missing, and Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed deep sympathy for the victims of the "catastrophe", the scale of which will become clear only in the coming days.
On Friday morning, German media reported that at least 81 people died in the two worst-affected states, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia: 50 and at least 30, respectively.
On Thursday evening, Ahrweiler County officials said the death toll would rise and that they were trying to find some 1,300 missing, although the high figure was attributed to damage to mobile networks.
Regional Interior Minister Roger Levenz told broadcaster SWR: "We believe that 40, 50 or 60 people are still missing, and when you haven't received any news of people for such a long time … you have to fear the worst."
The intensity and scale of floods in Germany this week shocked climatologists, who did not expect records to be broken that much, over such a large area, and so quickly.
Following deadly heatwaves in the US and Canada, where temperatures soared above 49.6C two weeks ago, flooding in central Europe has raised fears that climate disruption is making extreme weather worse than predicted.
Rainfall records were broken across the vast area of the Rhine basin on Wednesday, with devastating consequences. At least 81 people died, tens of thousands of houses were flooded, power supply was disrupted.
Parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were flooded with 148 liters of rainfall per square meter over 48 hours in a part of Germany that typically receives around 80 liters in July.
The city of Hagen declared a state of emergency after the Volme River overflowed its banks and its waters rose to a level that has not been observed more than four times in a century.
The most striking of more than a dozen records was set at Cologne-Stammheim station, where 154 mm of rain fell in 24 hours, surpassing the city's previous daily record of 95 mm.
Climatologists have long predicted that climate change will lead to an increase in floods, heat waves, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather, but recent changes have exceeded many expectations.
“I am surprised at how much this exceeds the previous record,” said Dieter Gerten, professor of climate change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "It seems that we are not just exceeding the norm, but we are in areas that we did not expect, in terms of spatial scale and speed of development."
Gerten, who grew up in a village in the affected area, says it sometimes gets flooded, but not like this week. Previous summer rainstorms were equally severe, but affected a smaller area, and previous winter storms did not raise rivers to such dangerous levels. "This week's event is completely atypical for this region. It went on for a long time and affected a vast territory," he said.
“With climate change, we expect all hydrometeorological extremes to become more extreme. What we have seen in Germany is broadly in line with this trend,” said Carlo Buontempo, Copernicus Climate Change Director at the European Medium-Range Forecast Center weather.