At least 50 people are dead and more than 1,000 others are unaccounted for after floods in Germany caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away cars and caused homes to collapse Thursday, authorities said.
The government in the district of Ahrweiler, which is in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, said as many as 1,300 people are assumed to be missing.
Officials said at least 30 people died in North Rhine-Westphalia state and that 28 died in neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate to the south, The Associated Press reported.
Storms caused deadly flooding in Belgium, where media reported eight deaths. Luxembourg and the Netherlands also experienced flooding.
In Germany, torrential rain and storms stranded people on rooftops, and authorities used inflatable boats and helicopters to identify and rescue residents. The German army deployed soldiers to assist in the operation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with President Joe Biden, said the situation was “characterized by fear, by despair, by suffering.”
Hundreds of thousands of people were faced with catastrophe, she said, and homes became death traps.
“My empathy and my heart goes out to all of those who in this catastrophe who lost their loved ones or who were still worrying about the fate of people still missing,” she said.
Biden also expressed his condolences and the condolences of the American people to those affected by the flooding in Germany and other countries.
In Schuld, which is in Ahrweiler, Edgar Gillessen said the devastation was “simply catastrophic.”
“All these people living here, I know them all. I feel so sorry for them. They’ve lost everything. All they have is what they’ve had on them — it’s all gone,” Gillessen, 65, told Reuters. “A friend had a workshop over there, nothing standing. The bakery, the butcher — it’s all gone. It’s scary. Unimaginable.”
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that her thoughts were with those affected by the flooding in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and that the European Union stands ready to help.
In Belgium, the Vesdre River broke its banks and sent torrents of water churning through the streets of Pepinster, close to Liege, its destructive power bringing down some buildings.
France sent a helicopter and a rescue team to Belgium to assist local authorities, and Italy and Austria have offered flood rescue teams, the European Commission said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed.