At least 100 people have died in the devastating floods that engulfed parts of Europe as the search continues for the missing after raging waters turned once picture-postcard landscapes and historic towns into disaster areas.
Heavy rainfall and torrents of muddy water wreaked havoc this week across towns and villages in Western Europe, including portions of France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, but the worst hit areas were western Germany and eastern Belgium.
More than 50 victims have been reported in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate and 43 in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, bringing the national tally to 93. In Belgium, the toll stood at 14.
There are fears more victims will found as waters drain away across the devastated region and cleanup and salvage operations are stepped up. Around 900 army troops have joined rescue workers in Germany.
About 1,300 people are still missing in Rhineland-Palatinate’s largely rural district of Areole. Nearly 100 people were reported missing in Rhineland-Palatinate.
However, a paralyzed mobile network along with flooded roads and railways are hampering the ability of rescuers to reach residents, so the actual number could eventually fall.
Safe-drinking water is also now in short supply in parts of the crisis-hit region with many people having to be rescued by boat and a gas leak complicating the rescue work in the Rhineland-Palatinate’s town of Erftstadt.
Speaking during a visit to Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the floods as a “tragedy” promised aid to those affected.
The deadly floods have also suddenly propelled climate change to the centre stage of Germany’s September national election campaign.
German party leaders across the political spectrum have seized on the floods, the days of torrential rain and recent bout of high temperatures to call on the nation to face up to the challenges of global warming.
Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to succeed Merkel at the September 26 election, pointed the blame for the unprecedented floods and hefty rainfalls at global warming.
Laschet, who is also North Rhine Westphalia’s premier, once appeared to play down the consequences of the climate change several years ago.
But on Thursday he declared: “We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures … because climate change isn’t confined to one state.”
In the meantime, the situation remained tense across crisis-hit regions.
Several houses were swept away by the torrent of brown water in the small river-fronted village of Schuld, with numerous other buildings severely damaged and many businesses across the region now forced to fight for their survival.
In Belgium, the flood death toll rose to 14 at the latest count, Belga news agency reported on Friday, after more bodies were found overnight the southern Wallonia region.
The premier of the badly affected French-speaking region, Elio Di Rupio, said lessons would have to be learned in due course.
“Houses are collapsing due to the force of the water,” he told RTBF radio. “But the fact that we are not able to reach people who are affected, that is a lesson we must learn.”
While weather conditions began to improve and rain is now set to dissipate, the focus remained on the bulging Meuse river, which runs through cities including Liege and Namur.
The small country began to take stock of the damage done.
Rail travel was disrupted throughout Wallonia. More than 20,000 people were left without electricity on Thursday evening, Belga reported citing local energy authorities.
Tap water was deemed not to be of drinking quality in a number of communities in the provinces of Liege, Namur and others.