At least 19 people have died and dozens are reported missing as record rainfall in western Germany caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away homes and inundated cellars.
Police said four people had died and 70 were missing on Thursday around the wine-growing hub of Ahrweiler, in Rhineland-Palatinate state, after the Ahr River that flows into the Rhine burst its banks and brought down half a dozen houses.
“We have never seen such a catastrophe, it is truly devastating,” Rhineland-Palatinate premier Malu Dreyer told state lawmakers.
To the north, in North Rhine-Westphalia, two people were found dead in flooded cellars in Cologne, with further deaths in Solingen, Unna and Rheinbach, police said. On Wednesday night, two firefighters died in the state – one drowned while the other collapsed after a rescue mission.
About 50 people were stranded on roofs in Ahrweiler, and more houses were at risk of collapse. Police helicopters flew in from neighbouring states to winch people to safety, Koblenz police said.
Weather experts said rains in the region over the past 24 hours had been unprecedented, as a near-stationary low-pressure weather system caused sustained local precipitation also to the west in France and the Netherlands.
More heavy rainfall is due in southwestern Germany, on the upper reaches of the German Rhine, later on Thursday and Friday, the German Weather Service said.