The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines. Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down. Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns. “Everything is completely destroyed. You don’t recognise the scenery,” said 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 43 people. “We mourn with those that have lost friends, family members,” he said. “Their fate is ripping our hearts apart”. Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction, could be assessed.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is coordinating the relief operation there. It added that 103 people were “missing or unreachable”. PM Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon. Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened the southern province of Limburg. Thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days. The Dutch have so far reported no casualties. Search operations for the missing are on in all three nations.