Flash floods and overflowing rivers destroyed houses and ripped up highways and electricity lines in western Germany and Belgium.
Reuters confirmed at least 170 people have died as of July 17. The figure includes 143 deaths that local police counted in Germany, making it the country’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century. Roughly 98 of them died in the Ahrweiler neighborhood, south of Cologne.
Hundreds of people are missing or unreachable since many areas became impassable due to high water levels. Communication technology is still offline in multiple areas.
“Everything is completely destroyed. You do not recognise the scenery,” said Michael Lang who owns a wine shop in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a visit to Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where at least 45 people were killed.
“We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members,” he said according to the media outlet. “Their fate is ripping our hearts apart.”
Authorities revealed the dam failed late on July 16 in Wassenberg, near Cologne. It forced more than 700 people to evacuate.
Water levels have since stabilized according to Wassenberg Mayor Marcel Maurer.
“It is too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Days of heavy rain turned normally small rivers and streets into raging torrents, sweeping away cars, destroying homes, and trapping residents.
About 4,500 citizens were ordered to flee their homes after cracks appeared on the nearby Steinbachtal dam wall in the Euskirchen region, near the city of Bonn.
Three months of rain was recorded in less than a week. Engineers warn the dam is dangerously close to collapsing after a large amount of water was released into the reservoir.
The state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and Christian Democratic Union’s general election candidate, Armin Laschet, promised to speak with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz about financial assistance in the coming days.
On July 18, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Rhineland Palatinate, where the disaster-affected community of Schuld is located.
According to the national crisis centre, which coordinates the relief effort in Belgium, the death toll has already risen to 27.
The centre suggested some people are unlikely to contact survivors because they cannot recharge their cell phones, or are still in hospital without identification papers.
Our thoughts and hearts are with Europe facing catastrophic floods. Germany, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg. #ClimateCrisis is impacting everyone. Wishing counterparts courage and resilience during these tough times. The time to act is Now! pic.twitter.com/AfyYmTX8ql— Fridays For Future Bangladesh (@FFFinBD) July 17, 2021