At least 92 people have died and dozens are missing after record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks across western Germany and neighboring Belgium, prompting a large-scale rescue effort.
Swollen rivers swept through towns and villages, leaving cars upended, houses destroyed and people stranded on rooftops.
In Germany, which is experiencing one of the worst weather disasters since World War II, parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia regions were inundated with 148 litres of rain per sq metre within 48 hours in a part of the country that usually sees about 80 litres in the whole of July.
Deutsche Welle said most of the fatalities were in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. About 1,300 people are missing in the Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler region according to the regional administration.
Around 15,000 members of the German emergency services, police and army were on the ground in the worst-hit areas.
In addition to the rising death toll, around 200,000 households lost power due to the floods, according to energy provider Eon.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel while in the United States for meetings with US President Joe Biden, called the situation a “catastrophe”.
“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” she said.
The governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
Unusually heavy rains also inundated Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) issued a warning in the “extreme category,”
early this week. Politico quoted Professor Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist who set up and advises EFAS, as saying that the death toll, with many more people reported missing, was “a monumental failure of the system.”
“I would have expected people to be evacuating, you don’t expect to see so many people dying from floods in 2021. This is very, very serious indeed,” she said.
The Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD), Germany’s federal meteorological service, passed on the warning to local authorities, according to spokesman Uwe Kirsche. “As a federal authority, the DWD is not responsible for initiating evacuations or other measures on-site … that is a task for the local authorities,” he added.
Some authorities, including the Belgian city of Liège and several towns in Luxembourg, did order people to leave their homes. Flooding also hit parts of the Netherlands, where the government labeled the situation an official disaster.
After the deadly heatwave in the US and Canada, now deadly floods in Europe and who knows what’s up next.
The death toll from catastrophic flooding in Western Europe climbed above 180 on Sunday (July 18).
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo declared 20 July a national day of mourning. Pope Francis offered a prayer for the flood victims and for support of the “efforts of all to help those who suffered great damage.”
With reporting by Deutsche Welle, Politico, AP