BERLIN (AP) – More than 20 people have died and dozens are missing in Germany and neighboring Belgium after heavy flooding that turned streams and streets into raging torrents, sweeping cars away and causing the collapse of buildings.
In recent days, storms in parts of western Europe have overflowed rivers and reservoirs, causing flash floods as the soggy ground no longer absorbed water.
Authorities in the Euskirchen region in western Germany said Thursday that eight deaths had been reported there in connection with the flooding. Rescue operations were hampered by the failure of telephone and internet connections in parts of the county, southwest of Cologne.
Police in the western city of Koblenz said four people died in Ahrweiler County. Up to 70 people have been reported missing after several houses collapsed overnight in the village of Schuld in the Eifel, a volcanic region of hills and small valleys southwest of Cologne.
Dozens more were trapped on the roofs of their homes while waiting to be rescued. Authorities used inflatable boats and helicopters, and the German military deployed 200 troops to help with the rescue operation.
“There are dead, there are missing, there are many who are still in danger,” Rhineland-Palatinate state governor Malu Dreyer told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It is truly devastating.
Across the Belgian border, the Vesdre broke its banks and sent masses of water through the streets of Pepinster, near Liège, its destructive power bringing down some buildings.
“Several houses collapsed,” Mayor Philippe Godin told RTBF channel. It was not clear whether all of the residents were able to survive unharmed.
In eastern Eupen, on the German border, a man has been reported dead after being washed away by a torrent, a local governor told RTBF. Another man has been reported missing in eastern Belgium, where some towns have seen water levels rise to unprecedented levels and their centers have been turned into gushing rivers.
Major highways were flooded and in the south and east of the country, the rail service said all traffic had been halted.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is committed to helping those affected.
“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,” she tweeted. “The EU is ready to help.
The full extent of the damage in the area was still unclear after many villages were cut off by floodwaters and landslides that made roads impassable. Videos posted on social media showed cars floating in the streets and partially collapsed houses in some places.
Many of the dead were not discovered until after the floodwaters began to recede again. Police said four people died in separate incidents after their basements were flooded in Cologne, Kamen and Wuppertal, where authorities warned a roadblock threatened to burst.
Authorities in Rhine-Sieg County, south of Cologne, have ordered the evacuation of several villages downstream from the Steinbachtal reservoir, fearing the dam may also rupture.
A firefighter drowned during rescue work in the city of Altena in western Germany on Wednesday and another collapsed during rescue operations at a power station in Werdohl-Elverlingsen. A man went missing in the eastern town of Joehstadt after he went missing while trying to protect his property from rising waters, authorities said.
Rail links have been suspended across much of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. Governor Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s elections this fall, was due to visit the flood-affected town of Hagen later Thursday.
German weather service DWD predicted precipitation would decrease on Thursday, although there may still be localized storms.
Authorities in the town of Valkenburg in the south of the Netherlands, near the German and Belgian borders, evacuated a care home and hospice overnight amid flooding that transformed the main street of the tourist town in the river, Dutch media reported.
The Dutch government sent some 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg on Wednesday evening to help with tasks such as transporting evacuees and filling sandbags as rivers overflowed their banks.
A section of one of the busiest highways in the Netherlands has been closed due to rising waters threatening to flood the road and Dutch media have shown a group of holidaymakers being rescued from a window in hotel with the help of an excavator.
Unusually heavy rains also flooded parts of northeastern France this week, chopping down trees and forcing the closure of dozens of roads. A train line to Luxembourg was disrupted, and firefighters evacuated dozens of people from homes near the Luxembourg and German border and in the Marne region, according to the local television channel France Bleu.
The equivalent of two months of rain fell in some areas in the past one or two days, according to the French national weather service. With the ground already saturated, the service forecast more showers on Thursday and issued flood warnings for 10 regions.
Meanwhile, high temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) or more were expected in parts of northern Europe on Thursday.
The night between Wednesday and Thursday was the hottest in history, Finnish weather service company Foreca said on Thursday, with the mercury reaching 24.2 degrees Celsius (75.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the extreme weather conditions of recent days should not be seen as “the new normal”.
“We are at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent,” she said on Twitter.
Raf Casert in Brussels, Angela Charlton in Paris, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.