Dozens of people remain missing as severe floods sweep through western Germany and Belgium.
The death toll from devastating floods across parts of western Germany has risen to 106, according to local authorities, pushing the total death toll from flooding in Western Europe past 125, as the search continued for hundreds of people still unaccounted for.
While heavy rainfall battered parts of France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the worst-hit areas were western Germany where at least 63 victims have been reported in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and 43 in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In Belgium, the death toll has risen to 23.
There are fears more victims could be found as waters drain away across the devastated region and clean up and salvage operations are stepped up. Nearly 900 army personnel have joined rescue workers in Germany as about 1,300 people were still reported missing.
Authorities, though, said efforts to contact them could be hampered by disrupted roads and phone connections.
Here are the latest updates:
The EU Commission President said the intensity and length of weather events such as the devastating floods in Western Europe were a “clear indication” of climate change underlining the need for “urgent action”.
Speaking in Dublin alongside Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Ursula von der Leyen said the commission had activated mechanisms to support the affected member states.
Sounding a positive note, Von der Leyen on Friday said the fight against climate change also offered huge opportunity to replace fossil fuels with modern clean technologies and to move to a circular economy using less energy and less waste.
As rising waters broke through a dyke and swamped cities, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared a national disaster in the southern province of Limburg, which is sandwiched between badly flooded areas in western Germany and Belgium.
Authorities were preparing to evacuate large parts of the city of Venlo on Friday afternoon, and told people in the smaller municipality of Meerssen to leave their properties.
The military later managed to reinforce the dyke near Meerssen, the regional security body told L1 radio, but the evacuation order remained in place.
Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said the cost of the damage was likely to run into “billions of euros”.
Agron Berischa, a 21-year-old decorator from Bad Neuenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state, told AFP news agency “everything was under water within 15 minutes”.
“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses, everywhere was under water.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said the recent days of heavy flooding in Belgium were the worst the country has ever seen, as he declared July 20 a national day of mourning.
“We are still waiting for the final toll, but this could be the most catastrophic flooding our country has ever seen,” he said.
In the village of Gemünd in the Eifel region of western Germany, one house was left with a wall missing, exposing bookshelves on the inside.
Hotel owner Manfred Pesch, 55, told The Associated Press news agency the water levels had risen to “far over two metres (6.5 ft),” adding that his “complete livelihood is destroyed.
“We have really been overrun in a very short time”, Pesch said.
In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, 12 residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities were among those killed in the town of Sinzig, who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby river Ahr.
Scientists have insisted that climate change exacerbates the extreme weather that has been on show from the western US and Canada to Siberia to Europe’s Rhine region.
“There is a clear link between extreme precipitation occurring and climate change,” Professor Wim Thiery of Brussels University told The Associated Press news agency.
For the heat records, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the University of Potsdam said: “Some are so extreme that they would be virtually impossible without global warming, as recently in western North America.”
Sir David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group said: “These are casualties of the climate crisis: we will only see these extreme weather events become more frequent.”
Hundreds of people have fled their homes in and around the southern Dutch town of Meerssen after floods broke through a dyke.
Emergency services said the flood waters were about to swamp the surrounding villages of Bunde, Voulwames, Brommelen and Geulle. Sirens sounded and drone footage showed water flowing into streets and homes.
Dyke breach in the Netherlands.
In what is, for all purposes, the highest part of of the country… https://t.co/K9mX3mOZtU
— Bas Wisselink (@DamelonBCWS) July 16, 2021
“Immediately leave your home and get to safety,” the emergency services said in an online alert. “There is a large hole in the dyke.” Families were told to turn off their electricity and gas supplies.
The flooding was expected to impact about 3,000 people, local emergency services spokeswoman Samantha Wisniewski said.
The number of people dead in Belgium has risen to 23, Belga news agency has reported, citing the governor of badly-hit Liege province.
“There are still people on roofs in the province of Liege who haven’t had food or drink for 36 hours,” governor Herve Jamar told broadcasters RTL-TVI and RTBF in comments carried by Belga.
Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told broadcaster VRT there was a provisional death toll of 18 with a great many missing.
Helicopters and drones are to keep searching in the coming hours, she said.
About 707 soldiers have been deployed across 20 counties in the worst-hit states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia to provide support to the local communities affected by the heavy rains, the defence ministry said on Twitter.
Aktuelle Zahlen zum #Hochwasser: Derzeit sind 709 Soldatinnen und Soldaten im Einsatz – in insgesamt 20 Landkreisen in NRW und Rheinland-Pfalz. Die Katastrophenhilfe hat jetzt oberste Priorität, betont Ministerin @akk. Wir bündeln alle verfügbaren Kräfte. #FürEuchGemeinsamStark pic.twitter.com/6TMXq8cWHg
— Verteidigungsministerium (@BMVg_Bundeswehr) July 16, 2021
Translation: There are currently 709 soldiers on duty in 20 districts in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. Disaster relief is now the top priority, said Minister AKK [Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer].
We are pooling all available forces.
Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo are evacuating a hospital due to the looming threat of flooding.
Emergency coordinators said some 200 patients will be transported from the VieCuri hospital to other hospitals Friday afternoon as a precaution “to get ahead of any possible flooding”.
The hospital is close to the banks of the swollen Maas River that flows into the Netherlands from Belgium, where flooding has caused widespread damage in and near the city of Liege.
In Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne which has been badly hit by the storm, several residential buildings and part of the historic castle have collapsed, local media reported.
“We assume several deaths, but do not know,” said North Rhine-Westphalian Interior Minister Herbert Reul in Düsseldorf.
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 60 people had died there, while in neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could rise further.
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.
Steinmeier also highlighted how climate action was needed to prevent such devastation in the future.
“Only if we take up the fight against climate change decisively, we will be able to prevent, we will be able to keep extreme weather conditions such as those we are experiencing,” he said.
On a similar note, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen urged stronger action on climate change.
“It is the intensity and the length of the events that science tells us this is a clear indication of climate change and that this is something that really, really shows the urgency to act,” she told reporters.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Der Spiegel magazine that the federal government aimed to provide financial support for the affected regions as quickly as possible, adding a package of measures should go to the cabinet for approval on Wednesday.
River water churned through the Belgian town of Pepinster, near Liege as a police helicopter hovered above the town as an emergency worker was lowered into the flooded streets below. Damaged buildings could be seen along the river bank.
In a provisional tally, the Belgian death toll has risen to 12, with five people still missing, local authorities and media reported early on Friday.
Malu Dreyer, the governor of the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming.
“We’ve experienced droughts, heavy rain and flooding events several years in a row, including in our state,” she told the Funke media group. “Climate change isn’t abstract any more. We are experiencing it up close and painfully.”
She accused the Laschet and Merkel’s centre-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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Washington, DC, voiced her shock at the scope of the flooding, saying, “I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster.” She said the number of dead was likely to rise further. “We still don’t know the number. But it will be many.”
Speaking at the White House, Merkel said the day was “characterised by fear, by despair, by suffering, and hundreds of thousands of people all of a sudden were faced with catastrophe”.
“My heart goes out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones, or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing,” she said.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help, tweeting: “My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and those who have lost their homes.”
My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and with those who have lost their homes.
The EU is ready to help.
Affected countries can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) July 15, 2021