More than 60 people died and 1,300 went missing on Thursday in severe flooding in Germany and Belgium, turning streets into raging rivers that swept away cars and collapsed homes. The dead included nine residents of the home for the disabled and two firefighters who were involved in rescue efforts throughout the region.
“I mourn those who died in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Washington, expressing shock at the scale of the flood.
Speaking with US President Joe Biden at the White House, Merkel said her thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones or are still looking for them.
"I am afraid that we will see the full scale of this tragedy only in the coming days," she said.
Authorities said at least 30 people died in North Rhine-Westphalia and 28 in neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate to the south. The Belgian media reported eight deaths in that country.
Recent storms in western Europe have caused rivers and reservoirs to overflow their banks, causing flash floods during the night when the moisture-laden soil could no longer absorb water.
Among the worst-hit German villages is Schuld, where several houses collapsed and dozens of people went missing.
Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads, telephone and internet outages throughout the Eiffel, a volcanic region with hills and small valleys. Some villages fell into ruins, as old brick and wooden houses could not withstand the sudden onslaught of water, which, passing through the narrow streets, often carried away trees and other debris.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who came to help his parents in Schulda, said that he had never seen the small river Ahr overflow with such a deadly stream.
“It felt like crazy this night,” he said.
Dozens of people had to be rescued from rooftops using inflatable boats and helicopters. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to help with the rescue efforts.
"There are dead, there are missing persons, many are still in danger," said Malu Dreyer, Governor of Rhineland-Palatinate, in the regional parliament. "We have never seen such a disaster. It is truly devastating."
The 52nd Civil Engineering Brigade and several volunteers from the US Air Force Base in Spangdahlem filled and distributed hundreds of sandbags to help protect homes and businesses in the area, US European Command said.
In Belgium, the Vézdre River overflowed its banks and poured into the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a firefighters rescue operation went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared.
"Unfortunately, they were swallowed up quickly," said Mayor Philippe Gaudin. "I'm afraid they are dead."
In Verviers, prosecutors said they found several bodies, but were unable to confirm local media reports that four people had died there.
In Liege, a city of 200,000, the Meuse overflowed its banks on Thursday and the mayor asked people living nearby to move to the higher ground.