The death toll from devastating floods across parts of western Europe soared to at least 108 on Friday — most in western Germany, where emergency responders were frantically searching for about 1,300 people, officials said.
Authorities said efforts to contact the missing people could be hampered by disrupted roads and phone connections.
In the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, 50 people died, including at least nine residents of an assisted-living facility for the disabled, while in neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state, 30 people lost their lives, authorities said.
The death toll in Belgium, meanwhile, jumped to 15 with five people still missing and more than 21,000 people left without power in one region, Agence France-Presse reported.
Luxembourg and the Netherlands also were battered by heavy rains, inundating many areas and forcing thousands to be evacuated in the Dutch city of Maastricht.
But Germany was the hardest hit, with residents caught completely off guard by the deluge called the “flood of death” by the country’s top-selling daily Bild.
“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday from Washington, where she met with President Joe Biden.
“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 said.
Streets and houses were submerged by water in some areas of Germany, while vehicles were left overturned after flood waters passed. Some districts were completely cut off from the outside world.
In Ahrweiler, several homes collapsed completely, drawing comparisons to the aftermath of a tsunami. At least 24 people were confirmed dead in Euskirchen, one of the worst-hit towns just to the north.
The number of dead in North Rhine-Westphalia has reached 43, authorities said Friday.
In the devastated Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate, some 1,300 people remained unaccounted for, although local authorities told Bild the high number was likely due to damaged phone networks.
Regional Interior Minister Roger Lewentz said that up to 60 people were believed to be missing, “and when you haven’t heard from people for such a long time… you have to fear the worst”.
“The number of victims will likely keep rising in the coming days,” Lewentz added.
Several people also were killed and gone missing after a landslide in Erftstadt-Blessem in North Rhine-Westphalia, officials said.
“Houses were largely swept away by the water and some collapsed,” the local authority in Cologne said in a tweet, while a spokeswoman for the local government told AFP there were confirmed deaths.
North Rhine-Westphalia Gov. Armin Laschet – whose handling of the disaster is widely seen as a test for his ambitions to succeed Merkel as chancellor in the Sept. 26 election — has called an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday.
Malu Dreyer, the governor of neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming.
“We’ve experienced droughts, heavy rain and flooding events several years in a row, including in our state,” she told the Funke media group. “Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully.”
She accused Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany.
With Post wires