Germany and Belgium experience catastrophe floods due to heavy rains

Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 59 people in Germany and nine in Belgium, and many more people are missing as rising waters caused several houses to collapse on Thursday.

In Germany, which is experiencing one of the worst weather disasters since World War II, desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled above.

Unusually heavy rains also inundated neighbouring Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium.

On a visit to Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her “heart goes out” to the victims of the flooding.

“I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days,” she said, adding that the government is doing its “utmost to help (people) in their distress”.

US President Joe Biden, speaking alongside Merkel at a joint news conference, offered his “sincere condolences and the condolences of the American people for the devastating loss of life and destruction”.

Around 15,000 members of the German emergency services, police and army were on the ground in the worst-hit areas.

Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP, recalling the floodwater crashing through her street during the night.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down, we thought it would break the door down.”

The environment ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate warned it expected floodwaters on the Rhine and Moselle rivers to rise with more rainfall.

In NRW and Rhineland-Palatinate, some 200,000 households were without power.

Police set up a crisis hotline for reporting missing loved ones and residents were asked to send in videos and photos that could help them in the search.

Regional official Juergen Pfoehler in Ahrweiler urged people to stay home “and, if possible, go to higher floors” of their houses.

The German military deployed some 400 soldiers across the two affected states to assist in rescue efforts.

In the city of Leverkusen, a power outage triggered by the storms led to the evacuation of a hospital with 468 patients.

Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks. Four were reported dead.