SCHULD/ERFTSTADT, Germany (Reuters) – More than 1,000 people were missing and more houses were destroyed in flood-stricken regions in western Germany and Belgium on Friday where further flooding was feared with the death toll already over 100.
Entire communities lay in ruins after swollen rivers swept through towns and villages in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, Belgium and the Netherlands.
“It was so terrible, we couldn’t help anyone. People were waving out of the windows,” Frank Thel, a resident of Schuld, told Reuters in front of a pile of rubble in the town, where several buildings had collapsed.
In Germany alone, more than 90 people have died in what is the country’s worst mass loss of life in years. That number was feared to rise further as more houses collapsed, while in Belgium media said the death toll was at least 14.
“The waters are rising more and more. It’s scary,” Thierry Bourgeois, 52, said in the Belgian town of Liege.
Infrastructure has been destroyed completely, and rebuilding will cost a lot of time and money, Rhineland-Palatinate premier Malu Dreyer told broadcaster ZDF.
“The suffering just keeps increasing,” she said.
In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, around 1,300 people were missing in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, the district government said on Facebook.
Mobile phone networks have collapsed in some of the flood-stricken regions, which means that family and friends are unable to track down their loved ones.
Further north, in Erftstadt near Cologne, several houses collapsed on Friday morning, and rescue crews were struggling to reach residents by boat. Roads around the town Erftstadt were impassable as they were washed out in the floods.
It was not clear whether there were any casualties as rescuers had to rely on walkie-talkies to relay information.
“The network has completely collapsed. The infrastructure has collapsed. Hospitals can’t take anyone in. Nursing homes had to be evacuated,” the spokeswoman said.
One dam close to the Belgian border, the Rurtalsperre, flooded, while another, the Steinbachtalsperre, was stabilised early on Friday. Some 4,500 people have been evacuated from communities downstream, and a stretch of the A61 motorway has been closed amid fears of a breach.
The German military has deployed over 700 soldiers in the two affected states to help with rescue efforts.
Thousands of residents in the north of the Limburg province in neighbouring Netherlands were ordered to leave their homes early Friday as floodwaters peaked.
Emergency services were on high alert, and authorities were also reinforcing dikes along vulnerable stretches where floodwaters continue to rise.
Waters were receding in the southern city of Maastricht, where there was no flooding and in the town of Valkenburg, where damage was widespread, but no one was hurt.
In Belgium, at least four people missing. The Belgium crisis centre has urged people in large parts of the south and east of the country not to travel.
France sent 40 military and a helicopter to Liege in Belgium to help with the flood situation, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Twitter. [nL8N2OS1OI
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Liege resident Bourgeois said. “I came by at midday yesterday, you could still see the little barrier there. This morning, you can’t see it any more.”
The death toll is the highest of any natural catastrophe in Germany since a deadly North Sea flood in 1962 that killed around 340 people. The crash of a high-speed ICE train in 1998 killed 101 people.
Floods at the Elbe river in 2002, which at the time were billed by media “once-in-a-century floods”, killed 21 people in eastern Germany and more than 100 across the wider central European region.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told magazine Spiegel 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.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday weather extremes were becoming more frequent which required action to counter global warming.
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