The death toll from devastating floods in Germany reached 133 on Saturday, police said, bringing the total number of those killed in Europe to 153.
Rescuers resumed the search for survivors with hundreds still missing on Saturday morning as desperate families released pictures of their loved ones.
It is just the latest episode in the evolving weather crisis in central Europe, with more than 130 people killed across Germany, marking the country’s deadliest floods since at least 1962 when more than 300 people were killed in flooding in Hamburg.
At least another 23 people were killed in neighbouring Belgium where a ‘tsunami-like’ torrent of water inundated parts of Leige and Verviers, causing the Meuse and Vesdre rivers to burst their banks.
There are fears that toll could rise considerably with hundreds of people still missing, mostly from the hard-hit Ahrweiler region, south of Bonn, where whole villages were destroyed as the Ahr river broke its banks.
Names, pictures, and details of the last contact with ten people who are unaccounted for were published in German outlet Bild as part of a campaign to help find the missing.
A family were among the missing on Saturday morning. Pictures of Hans Neufeld, 71, wife Ella, 59, and their son Frank, 22, were submitted by the couple’s first son Harry, 30.
He said they were last seen at home in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in the early hours of Thursday, when flood waters started rising significantly. ‘Since then, there has been no trace,’ he said.
Karl-Heinz Zimmermann, a 93-year-old grandfather from Bad Neuenahr was reported missing by his granddaughter Sandy Zimmermann. She said she last spoke to him around 10pm on Thursday evening.
‘He wanted to go to bed normally, and didn’t feel threatened by the water’, she said. ‘But now the whole house is full of mud and nobody can be reached there. I tried to call him all day – over and over again. The fire brigade doesn’t know where he is either.’
It comes after thousands of villagers in western German prayed for a miracle on Friday night amid fears a nearby dam could collapse and inundate their homes with water.
The villages in the Euskirchen region, near the city of Bonn, were evacuated with 4,500 told to flee their homes after cracks started appearing in the dam holding back the nearby Steinbach reservoir.
Engineers warned the dam was dangerously close to collapse after a huge amount of water was dumped into the reservoir as three months’ worth of rain fell on the region in just one week, causing widespread devastation.
The dam is designed to vent excess water, but its drainage system has been blocked by debris including trees and rubble from destroyed buildings. The strain was clearly visible Friday as huge cracks appeared in the soil reinforcing the front of the dam.
A second family – Nicole Berg (left), Patrick Berg, and their son Dennis (left) – were also among the missing. Karl-Heinz Zimmermann (right), a 93-year-old grandfather from Bad Neuenahr was also reported missing
There are fears the crisis could worsen the a dam at the Steinbach reservoir (insert) on the verge of collapse due to the pressure of water behind it, as 4,500 people living in three villages below (top right) told to evacuate their homes
Engineers warned a huge amount of pressure has built up behind the dam after it was inundated with water and its drainage system jammed, with huge cracks visible in the soil wall helping to hold it up (pictured bottom)
It comes after a landslide in the flood-damaged town of Blessem, near Cologne, killed ‘several’ people on Friday as Germany’s worst flooding crisis in decades continued to worsen
The German fire brigade pump water out of the Steinbach dam after engineers warned the dam was dangerously close to collapse after three months’ worth of rain fell on the region in just one week
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she was planning to visit the disaster zone, hours after King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium visited Pepinster, where the water has continued to rise.
The visit comes just hours after a landslide in the town of Blessem, near Cologne, killed an unknown number of people when waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit – taking homes, cars, and families with it.
Helicopters circled overhead following the collapse, looking for anyone left to save. It is thought 55 people were evacuated from the town overnight, but an unknown number returned in the morning to check the damage when the landslide struck.
Such is the scale of the devastation and human tragedy that economic cost-counting has barely even begun, though one German official said bluntly that the cost is certainly in the ‘billions’.
A second family – Nicole Berg, Patrick Berg, and their son Dennis – were also among the missing. Their pictures were submitted to Bild by Nicole’s sister Katja who said her sibling was last online on Wednesday 10pm.
Gerhard Hubner, 60 was also among the missing. His picture was submitted by housewife Christina Drothen, 36, who said he was last seen at his house in Ahrweiler on Wednesday evening.
Julia Dillenburger, 39, from Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, was another. She was last heard from in the early hours of Thursday after she escaped her basement flat for her neighbours apartment on the first floor.
Husband and wife Aida Maria, 74, and Klaus Wolfgang Huber, 76, were last heard from on Wednesday evening. Aida, who is Ecuadorian, has lived in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler since 2005. Her niece said there has been no sign of the pair since the flood.
Diana Janko, 60, was last seen a few days ago on Facebook video call. She recently told loved ones she wanted to go to the hospital, but has failed to pick up her phone for several days.
An aerial photo shows the submerged area around the Meuse river near Roosteren in the Netherlands on Friday
A devastating torrent of unprecedented rainfall has flooded streets and back gardens in across Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Pictured: Brommelen in the Netherlands
More than 100 people have already died from the flash floods in neighbouring Germany, as fears have now spread for both Belgium and the Netherlands
A bird’s eye view of Valkenburg, the Netherlands as the shocking floods in Europe continued to sweep through the continent on Friday
Water levels on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands remains critical, and several dikes were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 63 people had died there, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River.
In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could increase.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was ‘stunned’ by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.
‘In the hour of need, our country stands together,’ Steinmeier said in a statement. ‘It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.’
Rescuers sought to save people trapped in their homes in the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed when the ground beneath them sank suddenly. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.
‘We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,’ county administrator Frank Rock said. ‘We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued.’
Houses on the outskirts of Blessem were torn to pieces as the ground beneath them collapsed and fell into a nearby gravel pit in the wake of torrential rains that have caused chaos in western Germany
A section of sewage pipe is visible (left) alongside the partially-destroyed remains of a house in Blessem after a landslide
Chunks of road, pieces of concrete sewage pipe, cars, and wrecked buildings are shown collapsed into a watery hole on the outskirts of Blessem, Germany, following the landslide
Heavy rains caused mudslides and flooding in the town of Blessem, western Germany, killing an unknown number of people
Aerial view shows an area completely destroyed by the floods in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany
‘Several’ people have been killed in the landslip, local officials said, though they were unable to say precisely how many
Cars lie crumpled against concrete blocks that once formed part of the sewer system after the ground gave way due to a landslide in Blessem, Germany
Two cars lie at the bottom of a deep hole created when waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit in Germany
A partly-destroyed car that was parked in a garage is left hanging off the edge of a cliff after the ground collapsed in Blessem
The death toll in Germany from the flooding had already topped 80 even before the landslide hit Blessem, sweeping away homes and part of a castle
Officials said the landslide in Blessem had ‘certainly’ killed people though were unable to immediately say how many amid chaos caused by Germany’s deadliest flooding crisis for decades
A rescue helicopter circles over the town as emergency services try to save 15 people that went back to their homes and got trapped when the landslide hit
Water drains away from the town of Blessem, Germany, after a landslide caused part of the ground to collapse (top left and centre), killing ‘several’ people on Friday
Collapsed ground is seen near the village of Blessem, Germany, after flooding caused a landslide which killed ‘several’ people
A car washed up by flood waters hangs on a tree while the river Ahr can be seen in the background in Bad Neuenahr, Germany
A crashed fire engine is stuck in a hole in the road in Bad Neuenahr, Germany, following massive rainfall which has caused flooding
A bicycle that was tied up outside a house in Blessem now hangs on the edge of a giant hole after the ground fell away
A man rides his bicycle through the flooded streets of in Blessem, Germany, following devastating floods that have killed nearly 100
Damaged cars lie in the rubble in an area completely destroyed by the floods in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, Germany
An aerial view of the landslide shows how what used to be a street corner collapsed into the ground, taking the road, houses, cars and other debris with it
The collapse happened in Blessem, south of Cologne (main), when flooding from the Erft river caused waterlogged ground to collapse into a nearby gravel pit (inset) – dragging homes and cars down with it
The flooding crisis was triggered by a heavy and slow-moving rainstorm over western Germany that dumped more than a months’ worth of rain in a night, and also impacted parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium visit a flooded street in Pepinster after the area was ravaged by heavy flooding
King Philippe comforts a woman after her home was flooded in Pepinster, Belgium, even as water continues to rise in the area
King Philippe of Belgium spoke to residents affected by heavy flooding in Pepinster as he visited the disaster zone on Friday
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde surveyed the damage caused by heavy rainfall and flooding in Pepinster, Beligum
Local residents try to clear up a shop following heavy rainfall and flooding in Pepinster, Belgium, on Friday
Speaking to German broadcaster n-tv, Rock said authorities had no precise number yet for how many had died in the flash floods that turned roads into wild raging torrents, ripping up cobblestones, collapsing homes and flipping parked cars into piles of rubble.
‘One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn’t manage to escape,’ he said.
Authorities were still trying to account for hundreds of people listed as missing, but cautioned that the high number could be due to duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone service.
After Germany, where more than 100 people have died, Belgium was the hardest hit by the floods that caused homes to be ripped away.
Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday that the country’s official confirmed death toll had grown to 20, with 20 other people still missing.
Water levels on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands remains critical, and several dikes were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said.
Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the looming threat of flooding from the river.
Flash floods this week followed days of heavy rainfall in Western Europe. Thousands of people remained homeless in Germany after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities.
An aerial image shows the extent of flood damage in Shuld, a town in the Ahrweiler region of Germany, which was hardest-hit by flooding which swept away homes overnight Wednesday
Rescue crews are now sifting through rubble in the Ahrweiler region (town of Shuld, pictured) where 1,300 people are missing amid warnings the death toll could rise considerably
An aerial picture taken with a drone shows the destroyed village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
Dozens have died and more than 1,000 people are missing after Germany was hit by some of the deadliest flooding in the country’s modern history
An aerial view taken with a drone shows a damaged car at a cemetery in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
Damaged cars pile up on a street after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
People shovel mud to clear a street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, after heavy rain hit parts of the country
A local surveys the damage caused by flooding in Bad Neuenahr, in Ahrweiler district, where most of the missing hail from
A local resident walks past damaged cars in a street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, after heavy rain hit parts of the country
A view of the pedestrian area of Bad Muenstereifel, which was devastated by flooding after heavy rainfall hit western Germany
People carry their belongings past a broken road in Schuld, Germany
People walk past rubble in a street devastated by the floods in Euskirchen, western Germany
A destroyed car lies on its side in a ditch amid the ruins of the town of Schuld, Germany, following severe flooding
A man tries to cleans his garden of mud and other debris in Schuld, Germany, after devastating floods
An aerial view of the destruction in the pedestrian area of Bad Muenstereifel after heavy rain caused widespread flooding
Destroyed houses are seen after floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
Debris hangs on a damaged bridge over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, two days after devastating floods hit
Firefighters rest next to debris of houses in Schuld, Germany, after a two-day rescue operation that is far from complete
A fireman walks past the ruins of a car in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, after it was swept away by floodwaters
A man carrying a shovel on his shoulder walks amid the debris near damaged cars after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
A van crushed by the torrents is pressed against a tree after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
Men walk past driftwood, rubble, and an overturned car, as they survey the damage caused by severe floods in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
A man takes pictures of cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
Two people walk near damaged vehicles after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
A man stands amid rubble and debris after floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
People climb over rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
A view of debris and damaged buildings amid flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
A couple hug as they survey the damage caused by severe flooding in Bad Neuenahr after the Ahr river burst its banks
A local helps to clear away rubble blocking a street in Schuld, Germany, following disastrous flooding
A person stands amid the debris near a damaged car after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
A collapsed building is pictured after a flood in Schuld, Germany
A fire truck drives through a flooded street following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt, Germany
A view of a vehicle of the fire department (Feuerwehr) stuck in a damaged street of a residential area after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
Trucks are almost fully submerged on a flooded street following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt, Germany
Police officers inspect the area as a person rides a quad bike amid the debris after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
Cars left covered in mud and debris following flooding in Bad Neuenahr, Germany, after the area was w hit by heavy continuous rain
A wrecked car is seen in a school yard after flooding in Bad Neuenahr, Germany, following heavy rain on Wednesday
Locals in the town of Erftstadt, Germany, help to fill sandbags to block rising floodwaters amid forecasts of more rain
A crayfish walks down the street in Schuld, Germany, after it was washed into town on floodwaters that inundated the river
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after Germany’s election on September 26, said the disaster had caused immense economic damage to the country’s most densely populated state.
‘The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet,’ Gov. Armin Laschet said at a news conference. ‘They lost their houses, farms or businesses.’
Federal and state officials have pledged financial aid to the affect areas, which also includes the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where at least 60 people died and entire villages were destroyed.
Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming.
She accused Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.
‘Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,’ she told the Funke media group.
Steinmeier, the German president, echoed her calls for greater efforts to combat global warming.
‘Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,’ he said.
Experts say such disasters could become more common in the future.
‘Some parts of Western Europe … received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days. What made it worse is that the soils were already saturated by previous rainfall,’ World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis said.
While she said it was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heat wave on rising global temperatures, Nullis added: ‘Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.’
Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said the German military had deployed over 850 troops to help with flood effeorts but the number is ‘rising significantly because the need is growing.’ He said the ministry had triggered a ‘military disaster alarm.’
Italy sent a civil protection officials, firefighters and rescue dinghies to Belgium to help in the search for missing people from the devastating floods.
In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, which also has been hit hard by flooding, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 1.1-kilometer (0.7 mile) stretch of dike along the Maas River and police helped evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.
Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government was officially declaring flood-hit regions a disaster area, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation. Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region Thursday night and called the scenes ‘heart-breaking.’
Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen late Thursday.
Erik Schulz, the mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said there had been a wave of solidarity from other regions and ordinary citizens to help those affected by the floods.
‘We have many, many citizens saying `I can offer a place to stay, where can I go to help, where can I registered, where can I bring my shovel and bucket?’,’ he told n-tv. ‘The city is standing together and you can feel that.’
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima are examining the damage caused by the storm in Valkenburg, the Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima are examining the damage caused by the storm in Valkenburg
Residents erect flood-barriers as the water level of the Meuse river rises in Roermond, the Netherlands
Residents clean up houses after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
A resident throws damaged items out of a window after flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
People walk through a damaged street after flooding in Chenee, Province of Liege, Belgium
Residents clean up houses after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
People stand next to a partially flooded street, following heavy rainfalls, in Trooz, Belgium
A partially-destroyed house sits beside the La Vesdre river in Verviers, Belgium, after it broke its banks and swept away part of the building
Clothes are seen hanging from the partially-destroyed wardrobe of a house in Verviers, Belgium
Debris swept along by the La Vestre river is seen dumped on the bank in Verviers, Belgium, after floodwaters receded
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival
A railway carriage of the Belgium SNCB train service is derailed following heavy rains and floods in Rochefort
A Belgian army vehicle is overturned in a ditch following heavy rains and floods near the town of Rochefort
‘In less that 10 minutes, the water rose by almost a metre,’ said Isabelle Bervoets, surveying the wreckage of her restaurant in Grez-Doiceau, Belgium.
The Train river that passes through the small community is one of those that burst its banks following days of torrential rain.
At least 20 Belgians died and 19 are missing, with scores more fatalities in neighbouring Germany.
But the economic toll in the Brabant region is all too clear, along city riverfronts, blocked train tracks and drowned factories – as well as in Isabelle’s restaurant.
The ground is a sea of mud, there is a stench of sewage, bar stools are scattered everywhere, the fridge in the wine cellar is wrecked, and Isabelle’s frustration with local authorities is overflowing.
‘I’m pretty furious with the commune,’ the 53-year-old said. ‘It was some young folk who brought us sand bags. I called the town hall but they didn’t have any.’
Not far away, Amandine Bosquet is surveying the wreckage of her family home, stacking damp cardboard boxes. ‘Everything on the ground floor, we’ve lost,’ the young woman says.
– ‘Devastation’ –
Belgium’s King Philippe is due to visit the flooded region later in the day, and Prime Minister Alexander de Croos was to give a news conference.
Meanwhile the vast tide of mud and water is draining down the Train through the Brabant’s green but densely populated valleys, into the Dyle, the Meuse and on to the hard-hit Netherlands.
The region experienced flooding in 2002 and 2005.
‘But since then, we’ve seen nothing like it, and we’d never imagine it hitting us so quickly,’ says Bervoets.
Chaudfontaine, Theux, Verviers, Pepinster, Spa – dozens of cities, towns and villages have been hit.
Liege was threatened with evacuation of the town centre, but after splashing the top of its embankment, the Meuse failed to break its way into the city.
Cars lie in market squares, stacked up like damp firewood.
Scout camps were evacuated. A train derailed. Rescue helicopters and boats plucked up families and terrified pets and took them to safety.
Rescue teams have flown in from France, Italy and Austria to help the Belgian authorities.
Pepinster, a small town outside Verviers, bore the brunt of the disaster within Belgium, with the town centre turning into a river and more than a dozen houses collapsing.
‘It’s a disaster, a tsunami,’ the local mayor, Philippe Godin, told AFP.
A day after the wave rushed through there’s no electricity, no drinking water, unreliable mobile reception and, Godin adds: ‘You have to think of the people who have lost everything, their memories. It’s terrifying.’
A damaged car and rubble caused by the floods in Theux, near Liege, in Belgium
A damaged car lying in a river after the floods caused major damage in Theux, near Liege, Belgium
Workers attach a no entry sign on a closed waterway to protect the city of Roermond, Netherlands, following flooding
Aerial view of the flooded camping site Jachthaven Hatenboer in Roermond, Netherlands
Swans swim in the high water of the Meuse river in Roermond, the Netherlands, after days of heavy rainfall
An aerial view of the river Meuse after it burst its banks in Roermond, the Netherlands, following days of heavy rainfall
Heavy rainfall has caused extensive damage in Roermond, the Netherlands, but no casualties have been reported
Image taken with a drone showing sustantial flooding near the Limburg hamlet of Aasterberg, Netherlands
A man standing next to a destroyed car takes pictured of the devastated area after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
A vehicle and wreckage lie on the river, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium, where at least 11 people have died
Damaged vehicles are parked on the street, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium
Vehicles and wreckage are seen on the street, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium
Wreckage lies on the river, following heavy rainfalls in Verviers, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers
Women remove the mud and debris from the garage following rain storms which flooded the town of Rochefort, Belgium
Residents clean up after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers
Destruction after heavy rains had caused severe flooding in Ensival, Verviers
Military medics move through the town of Erftstadt, Germany, to help the victims of some of the deadliest flooding the country has seen in decades
Lifeguards and police divers with an inflatable boat go into a flooded home in Erftstadt, Germany, as they search for victims