The death toll from devastating floods in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday after rivers and flash floods erupted this week that collapsed homes and ripped off roads and power lines.
Some 143 people died in floods in Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century. This included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district in southern Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or inaccessible, as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels, while communication in some places still did not work.
Residents and businessmen struggled to pick up the pieces in the battered cities.
“Everything is completely destroyed. You don’t recognize the landscape, ”said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.
“We mourn those who have lost friends, acquaintances, family,” he said. “His destiny is tearing our hearts apart.”
On Friday afternoon, about 700 residents were evacuated after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg, near Cologne, authorities said.
But Wassenberg Mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had stabilized since the night. “It’s too early to make it all clear, but we are cautiously optimistic,” he said.
The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany remained at risk of non-compliance, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from houses downstream.
Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage could be assessed, which is expected to require several billion euros in reconstruction funds.
Armin Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and candidate of the ruling CDU party in the September general election, said he will speak with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days on financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel to Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, the state that hosts the devastated town of Schuld.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis center, which coordinates the relief operation.
He added that 103 people were “missing or inaccessible.” Some were probably unreachable because they could not recharge cell phones or were in the hospital without ID, the center said.
In recent days, floods, which have mostly affected the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities of power and communications.
The largest German energy producer said on Saturday that its open-pit mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was operating at a lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern provinces of Belgium, Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.
Flood levels fell slowly in the hardest-hit areas of Belgium, allowing residents to classify damaged properties. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
The Belgian railway network operator Infrabel published plans to repair lines, some of which would only be operational again by the end of August.
Maximum alert in the Netherlands
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert, as overflowing rivers threatened cities and towns throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days as soldiers, firefighters and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night to enforce dikes and prevent flooding.
So far, the Netherlands has escaped the disaster on the scale of its neighbors and, as of Saturday morning, no casualties had been reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will cause heavier rains. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to investigate, scientists said Friday.