More than 60 dead, dozens missing in catastrophic flooding in Europe
More than 60 people have died and dozens were missing Thursday as severe flooding in Germany and Belgium turned streams and streets into raging torrents, sweeping away cars and causing houses to collapse.
Among those killed were nine residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities and two firefighters involved in rescue efforts across the region.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Washington, expressing shock at the scope of the flooding.
Speaking alongside President Biden at the White House, Merkel said her thoughts were with those who had lost loved ones or were still searching for them.
“I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days,” she said.
Biden likewise paid his condolences for the devastating loss of life and the destruction due to the flooding.
“Our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones,” he said.
Authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia state said at least 30 people had died, while 28 deaths were reported in Rhineland-Palatinate state to the south. Belgian media reported eight deaths in that country.
Recent storms across parts of Western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods overnight after the saturated soil couldn’t absorb any more water.
Among the worst-hit German villages was Schuld, where several homes collapsed and dozens of people remained unaccounted for.
Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads and phone and internet outages across the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys. Some villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn’t withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the small Ahr River surge in such a deadly torrent.
“This night, it was like madness,” he said.
Dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses with inflatable boats and helicopters. Germany deployed hundreds of soldiers to assist.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
Evacuation warnings were issued for the Pulga and East Concow areas, towns that were damaged in the 2018 Camp fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif.
The 52nd Civil Engineer squadron and several volunteers from the U.S. air base at Spangdahlem filled and distributed hundreds of sandbags to help protect homes and businesses in the area, the U.S. European Command said.
In Belgium, the Vesdre River spilled over its banks and sent water churning through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a rescue operation by firefighters went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared.
“Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed,” said Mayor Philippe Godin. “I fear they are dead.”
In Verviers, the prosecutor’s office said several bodies had been found but could not confirm local media reports that four people were killed there.
The record-breaking heat baking the West Coast is another painful sign that climate change is here, and we have to adapt.
In Liege, a city of 200,000, the Meuse River overflowed Thursday, and the mayor asked people living nearby to move to higher ground.
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help, and Pope Francis sent condolences, with his office saying the pontiff was praying for those injured and missing, as well as those who have lost their livelihoods.
The full extent of the damage across the region was still unclear because many villages were cut off by floodwater and landslides that made roads impassable.
Many of the dead were discovered only after floodwaters receded.
Toward a more sustainable California
Get Boiling Point, our newsletter exploring climate change, energy and the environment, and become part of the conversation — and the solution.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Authorities in Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbachtal reservoir amid fears the dam there could also break.
Armin Laschet, the governor of North-Rhine Westphalia state, paid tribute to two firefighters who died and pledged swift help.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we won’t leave the communities, the people affected alone,” he said during a visit to the flood-hit city of Hagen.
Laschet, a conservative who is running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in this fall’s German election, said the unusually heavy storms and preceding heat wave could be linked to climate change.
The world is getting closer to passing a temperature limit set by global leaders five years ago and may exceed it in the next decade, a new U.N. report says.
Political opponents have criticized Laschet, the son of a miner, for supporting the region’s coal mining industry and hampering the expansion of wind power plants during his time in office.
Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said it was unclear whether the extreme rainfall in Germany was a direct result of planetary warming.
“But one can state that such events are becoming more frequent due to global warming,” he told the Associated Press, noting that warmer air can absorb more water vapor that eventually falls as rain.
“The increase in heavy rain and decrease in days with weak rain is now also clearly seen in observational data, especially in the mid-northern latitudes, which includes Germany,” Rahmstorf said.
The weakening of the summer circulation of the atmosphere, causing longer-lasting weather patterns such as heat waves or continuous rain, might also play a role, he added.
Rainfall eased later Thursday across Germany, although water levels on the Mosel and Rhine rivers were expected to continue rising.
In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, visited the hard-hit Dutch town of Valkenburg on Thursday evening to support residents and emergency services. Flooding turned the main street into a torrent of brown water, inundating homes and businesses.
The Dutch government sent some 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg late Wednesday to help with evacuations and filling sandbags.
Thousands of people in neighborhoods of the city of Maastricht and other villages along the Maas River were ordered to evacuate Thursday evening amid threats of flooding, and centers were set up to house them. The Maas is the Dutch name for the Meuse River.
Solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars are not enough to beat climate change. California is also looking at giant carbon-sucking vacuums.
In northeastern France, heavy rains flooded vegetable fields, many homes and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.
The Aire River rose to its highest levels in 30 years in some areas, according to local newspaper L’Est Republicain.
The equivalent of two months of rain has fallen in some areas over two days, according to the French national weather service, with flood warnings issued for 10 regions. No injuries or deaths have been reported, but forecasters warned of mudslides and more rain on Friday.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.