Catastrophic flooding in western Europe has killed more than 120 people, with hundreds more missing, authorities said Friday, as large-scale rescue efforts continue amidst rising water, landslides and power outages.
Shocking images of the devastation in Germany and Belgium showed entire villages underwater, with cars wedged in between collapsed buildings and debris. The Netherlands and Luxembourg have also been affected by the extreme rainfall.
In Germany, at least 103 people have been killed across two western states. In the hard-hit district of Ahrweiler, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, authorities told CNN that 1,300 people remained unaccounted for.
“There is no end in sight just yet,” Ulrich Sopart, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz, told CNN. He said that authorities are hopeful that they will be able to revise down the number of missing people as the rescue operation continues and phone lines are restored.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, where at least 43 people have died, the state’s Interior Ministry spokeswoman Katja Heins told CNN: ”The situation remains very dynamic — we do not know how many people are unaccounted for.”
The death toll in Rhineland-Palatinate has risen to at least 60, the state premier, Malu Dreyer, announced Friday, adding that there was bad news every hour. ”We have 60 dead to mourn at the moment and it is to be feared that the number will rise even further, ” Dreyer said at a news conference, adding: ”We have not yet reached the stage where we can say that situation is easing.”
The German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland have been the worst affected by the record rainfall, which authorities have called the heaviest in a century.
“In some areas we have not seen as much rainfall in 100 years,” a spokesperson for the German weather service DWD said, adding that in those regions, they have “seen more than double the amount of rainfall,” causing flooding and structures to collapse.
Extreme rainfall is becoming more common in the warming climate, as warmer air can hold more water vapor that is available to fall as rain.
“Climate change has arrived in Germany,” Environment Minister Svenja Schulze tweeted Thursday, adding that “the events show with what force the consequences of climate change can affect us all, and how important it is for us to adjust to extreme weather events in the future.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that the widespread flooding is evidence of the need for urgency in acting 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 said.
On Thursday, the DWD predicted that the “worst of the torrential rainfall is over,” although more heavy rain is expected in southwestern Germany on Friday.
In neighboring Belgium, at least 22 people have died, authorities said Friday. Some 21,000 people are also without electricity in the southern region of Wallonia, according to energy supplier Ores, who said that the situation across the power network remains “extremely complicated.” Some 300 distribution points are flooded and impossible to reach, it said.
On Friday afternoon, a Dutch embankment in the province of South Limburg broke, with local authorities warning residents to urgently take action.
After a large hole was found in a dike alongside the Juliana Canal, the regional safety authority warned residents to urgently close all windows and doors, saying that there was not enough time to evacuate.
“There is no more time to leave the house,” the statement from the authority said, adding: “This area will be under water.”
Meanwhile, a hospital in the Dutch town of Venray, in North Limburg, was being evacuated on Friday afternoon. Around 200 patients would be transferred to other hospitals, the regional safety authority said.
More than 150 rescue workers from France, Italy and Austria are currently in Belgium “providing emergency assistance to people affected by the catastrophic floods,” the European Commission said Friday.