BERLIN (AP) — More than 30 people
were killed and dozens were missing in Germany
on Thursday after heavy flooding turned streams and streets into raging torrents that swept cars away and caused houses to collapse
Recent storms in Western Europe
caused rivers and reservoirs to burst their banks, resulting in flash floods overnight as the saturated soil couldn't absorb any more water
“I mourn for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel
said during a visit to Washington
, expressing shock at the magnitude of the flooding. “We still don’t know the number, but it will be many.”
She vowed to do everything possible to find those who remained missing, adding, "'heavy rain and flooding' does not capture what happened."
Authorities in the western German region of Euskirchen reported eight flood-related deaths
, with rescue
efforts hampered by phone and internet outages in parts of the county southwest of Cologne.
reported that 18 people were killed in Ahrweiler county, south of Euskirchen, and that up to 70 people were reported missing after several homes collapsed in the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys.
Many villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn't withstand the sudden rush of water, which frequently carried trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.
Hundreds of people had to be rescued from their homes' roofs using inflatable boats and helicopters, and Germany sent hundreds of soldiers to help.
“There are people who are dead, people who are missing, and many who are still in danger
,” Rhineland-Palatinate state governor
Malu Dreyer told the regional parliament
, adding, “We have never seen such a disaster; it is truly devastating.”
The Vesdre River
in Belgium overflowed its banks, churning water through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege.
“Several houses have collapsed,” Mayor
Philippe Godin told the RTBF network, adding that it was unclear whether everyone escaped unscathed.
Four people were killed in eastern Verviers, according to Belgian
media, and major highways in the country's south and east were flooded. The railway said all trains
“My thoughts are with the families
of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands
, as well as those who have lost their homes,” said European Union Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen in a tweet.
The full extent of the damage was unknown, with many villages cut off by floods and landslides that rendered roads impassable, and videos on social media
showing cars floating down streets and houses partially collapsing.
Police said four people died in separate incidents after their basements were flooded in Cologne, Kamen, and Wuppertal.
Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbachtal reservoir due to concerns that the dam would fail.
In North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, two firefighters
were killed during rescue efforts.
Governor Armin Laschet paid tribute to them and promised immediate assistance to those in need.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet,” he said during a visit to the flood-ravaged city of Hagen.
Laschet, a conservative running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in this fall's election
, believes the unusually heavy storms and earlier heat wave were caused by climate change
During his tenure
, Laschet, the son of a miner, has been chastised by political opponents for supporting the region's coal industry while stifling the growth of wind power
According to Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean
physics professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
, it is unclear whether the extreme rainfall in Germany is a direct result of global warming
“However, such events are becoming more frequent as a result of global warming,” he told The Associated Press
, noting that warmer air absorbs more water vapor, which eventually falls as rain.
“The increase in days with heavy rain and decrease in days with weak rain is now clearly visible in observational data, particularly in the mid-northern latitudes, which includes Germany,” Rahmstorf said.
He also speculated that the weakening of the summer circulation of the atmosphere, which causes longer-lasting weather patterns such as heat waves
or continuous rain, could play a role.
Rain fell less heavily across Germany later Thursday, but water levels in the Mosel and Rhine rivers were expected to rise further.
Authorities in the southern Dutch
town of Valkenburg, near the German and Belgian borders
, evacuated a care home and a hospice overnight due to flooding that turned the town's main street into a river, according to Dutch media.
Late Wednesday, the Dutch government dispatched approximately 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg to assist with evacuations and sandbag filling.
Due to rising water, a section of one of the country's busiest highways was closed, and Dutch media showed a group of tourists being rescued from a hotel window using an earth
Heavy rains in northeastern France
flooded vegetable fields, many homes, and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, according to the local firefighter service. Firefighters evacuated people from campgrounds around the town of Fresnes-en-Woevre, and Bastille Day fireworks
were canceled in some small towns.
According to the local newspaper L'Est Republicain, the Aire River reached levels not seen in 30 years in some areas.
According to the French national weather service
, the equivalent of two months' worth of rain fell in some areas over two days, prompting flood warnings in ten regions; no injuries or deaths have been reported, but forecasters predict mudslides and more rain on Friday.
According to the French broadcaster France Bleu, a train route to Luxembourg was disrupted, and firefighters evacuated dozens of people near the Luxembourg-German border and in the Marne region.
Raf Casert in Brussels, Angela Charlton in Paris, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this article.