AT LEAST 168 people are dead in Germany and Belgium following the worst floods in decades – with hundreds more still reported as missing.
Rescue workers are in a race against time to save those stuck in floodwaters amid mounting concerns of a fresh disaster as more heavy rains are forecast for the weekend.
German media has dubbed the national disaster a “flood of death” with at least 141 dead on Saturday.
Police said that more than 98 people are believed to have died in western Germany’s Ahrweiler district – one of the worst-hit areas.
Another eight people have been confirmed dead in Rhineland-Palatinate, officials said, bringing the region’s total death toll to 98 as of Saturday evening.
In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, another 43 were confirmed dead.
Up to 1,300 are still reported as missing, though the exact is unknown because phone networks are down and people have been rushed to hospital without ID.
“That’s how we found friends who couldn’t make it [out],” Aaron Löhr, 22, told The Telegraph.
“Everything is in ruins” one resident standing next to his destroyed house told Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday.
More than 22,000 emergency services are working on search-and-rescue operations in North Rhine-Westphalia, according to the state government.
“Anything is possible. We do not know what we will find in the cellars,” a fire department section head told Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Locals have also come to the rescue.
Renato Yez, a 54-year-old lorry driver from Niederzissen saved a woman’s life after he heard her cried for help and assisted rescue teams pull her out of the water, local media reports.
Another resident recalls “containers and cars afloats [as well as] gas containers, faeces and puddles of oil,” floating around as he attemted to rescue stranded horses.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Germany’s president, visited the badly-hit Rhein-Erft district on Saturday.
He said the flood disaster is “beyond our imagination”, adding: “We have met people who have lost everything. The greatest loss has to be borne by those who have lost relatives in the floods.”
State premier Armin Laschet said the flooding was a “catastrophe of historic dimensions”.
“The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet. They lost their houses, farms or businesses,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile the death toll in Belgium has risen to 27 as emergency workers scramble to find survivors amid the debris.
Belgian officials added another 103 people were still “missing or unreachable”.
Details and pictures of the last contact with people who are unaccounted for were published in German newspaper Bild – as part of a campaign to help find missing people.
Among the missing is one family – dad Hans Neufeld, 71, mum Ella, and their son Frank, 22 – submitted by the couple’s eldest son Harry.
Now there are fears the unfolding disaster could get even worse – with thousands of people already left homeless.
Germany’s DWD meteorologists are predicting further “extreme storms” in the western and central parts of Germany, with peak rainfall possibly reaching 200 litres per square metre.
This has threatened to raise the mighty Rhine river to dangerous levels.
And people living below the Steinbach reservoir, south of Cologne, have been told to flee amid warnings the dam could burst.
FEARS DAMS COULD BURST
One dam close to the Belgium border, the Rurtalsperre, is at risk while another, the Steinbachtalsperre, is on the brink of collapsae
Already, entire communities lay in ruins after swollen rivers swept through towns and villages.
About 1,300 people were missing in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, the district government said.
In the village of Schuld, Hans-Dieter Vrancken, 65, said: “Caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down.
“We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it. It’s like a war zone.”
Mobile phone networks have collapsed in some of the flood-stricken regions, which means that family and friends were unable to track down their loved ones.
Police have asked people to share footage and pictures of the floods to help them locate the missing as hundreds of soldiers were deployed to aid authorities.
Regional interior minister Roger Lewentz told broadcaster SWR: “When you haven’t heard for people for such a long time … you have to fear the worst.”
“The number of victims will likely keep rising in the coming days.”
Chancellor Merkel dubbed the dire weather “a catastrophe” ahead of a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden.
She told a press conference: “Heavy rainfall and floods are very inadequate words to describe this — it is therefore really a catastrophe.
“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days.”
The unprecedented weather has created a perilous situation elsewhere in Western Europe, seeing thousands forced to evacuate as homes collapse and cars are swept away by floodwaters.
Thousands of homes have been evacuated in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland as raging rivers burst their banks.
France, Italy, and Australia have sent a flood rescue team to help overwhelmed Belgian authorities, as the government of the country’s Wallonia region granted €2.5 billion in emergency aid.
In Leverkusen, 468 people were evacuated from a hospital after floods cut off power, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
In Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, 50 people were rescued after the ground beneath their homes collapsed, official Frank Rock told local broadcasters.
‘MORE EXTREME STORMS ON WAY’
Expressing her dismay on Twitter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I am shocked by the disaster that has affected so many people.
“My condolences go out to the relatives of the dead and missing. I thank the many tireless helpers and emergency services from the bottom of my heart.”
North Rhine Westphalia leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to survey the damage in his state, which is one of Germany’s most populous.
“We will stand by the towns and people who’ve been affected,” Laschet, clad in rubber boots, told reporters in the town of Hagen.
Prince William and Kate also shared a message of support on Friday.
🔵 Read our Germany floods blog for the very latest updates
“The damage and loss caused by the flooding disaster in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is devastating. We are thinking of all those affected by these floods,” they said in a statement.
Large chunks of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia are under water while villages in Belgium‘s Liege and Wallonia provinces were being evacuated due to rising river levels.
Belgium news outlet VRT NWS quoted the mayor of Pepinster, a small town of around 10,000 people in the Liege province, who said dozens of houses collapsed along the Vesdre River that flows through the area.
In the town of Chaudfontaine, daily Le Soir reported that nearly 1,800 people had to evacuate while 250 people in Moelingen were forced to leave their homes overnight.
One woman told Belgian TV station VTM News: “The emergency services advised us not to wait until tomorrow morning and to get out immediately.
“The house is completely full of water.”