Germany: Record rainfall in western Europe caused rivers to burst their banks, sweep away homes and flood cellars, killing at least 33 people and leaving dozens missing on Thursday. Eighteen people were killed and dozens were missing around the wine-growing hub of Ahrweiler, in Rhineland-Palatinate, after the Ahr river rose and brought down several houses, police said. Authorities say eight people were killed in the Euskirchen region south of Bonn. A 15-year-old girl went missing and being swept away by a swollen river after two men died in Belgium due to torrential rain.
Soldiers including tank crews assisted police with the rescue efforts, clearing roads of fallen trees and landslides while helicopters winched those stranded on rooftops to safety. Germany has suffered the worst mass loss of life in years due to floods. In 2002, floods in eastern Germany killed 21 people and more than 100 in Central Europe as a whole. Angela Merkel expressed her disappointment. ‘My heart goes out to the families of the dead and missing. I am shocked by the catastrophe so many people have to endure’.
During a visit to the flood-ravaged area, Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel in the September election, blamed the severe weather on global warming. ‘Climate change won’t be confined to one state and we must take climate protection measures on a global, national, and European level’, he said.
Laschet faces off with the Social Democrats’ Olaf Scholz and the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock on climate and environmental issues in the election contest. An Ahrweiler resident fled after a flood warning was issued at 2 a.m. ‘I have never seen a river burst its banks in such a short period of time before,’ the 63-year-old told SWR television. After the river Vesdre flooded the eastern town of Pepinster in Belgium, around ten houses collapsed and more than 1,000 residents were evacuated. Public transportation was also severely disrupted, with Thalys trains to Germany canceled due to the rain. The Meuse River is also closed as the major Belgian waterway threatens to breach its banks.
Flooding rivers in Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands, destroyed many houses, forcing the evacuation of several nursing homes. Along with the eight who died in Euskirchen, another seven people, including two firefighters, died elsewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia, many of them in flooded cellars. The town of Schuld was reduced to piles of debris and broken beams. As floodwaters receded on Thursday morning, roads were blocked by wreckage and fallen trees.