Berlin, 16 July 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Germany‘s flood crisis escalated on Thursday with the army deployed to the worst-hit areas of the country amid mass evacuations, reports of missing persons and a rising death toll.
At least 58 people are confirmed dead after being unable to escape the raging flood waters that engulfed parts of western Germany following days of torrential rain.
In the city of Cologne alone, police on Thursday confirmed the deaths of 20 people in the floods. Flooding has also devastated parts of the Netherlands and Belgium.
In the small Eifel region town of Schuld, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, four houses were completely swept away by rising flood waters during the night, while two others were partly destroyed.
Scores of people were reported missing, the authorities said, while emergency responders have rescued dozens of others stranded on their rooftops. Around 165,000 people in western Germany were without electricity on Thursday, according to energy provider Eon.
In the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, some 1,300 people were still missing on Thursday evening, though a spokeswoman for the town expressed hope they were only unreachable due to phone lines being down.
Nine residents of a facility for people with disabilities in Sinzig died when they could not be brought to safety quickly enough, a spokeswoman for the Rhineland-Palatinate Interior Ministry said.
Rhineland-Palatinate is experiencing an unprecedented disaster, state Premier Malu Dreyer told the regional parliament, which held a minute’s silence for communities inundated by flooding.
The state has experienced several floods over the years, Dreyer told lawmakers: “We haven’t seen a disaster like this. It’s just devastating.”
Some 850 soldiers have now been deployed to the hardest hit areas of western Germany to support rescue efforts, a Bundeswehr spokesperson told dpa on Thursday evening.
From Washington, Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her shock at the scale of the catastrophe that “so many people” are having to endure.
“My sympathy goes out to the families of the dead and missing,” Merkel said in a tweet sent by her press spokesman in which she also thanked emergency workers and those helping in the disaster.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised help to the countries affected by the flood disaster.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolence on Thursday to the relatives of those who died in the floods.
Several communities were cut off from the outside world with the mobile network partly down across several regions. In several towns in the Ruhr Valley, local authorities advised residents to boil drinking water for their own safety as the floods damaged water filtration plants.
In the city of Trier, about 2,000 residents have been stranded due to the flooding, the authorities said.
All official buildings in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate are to fly their flags at half-mast on Friday, the state premier said on Thursday.
The crisis has also impacted the campaign for Germany‘s September national election with the current front-runner to succeed Merkel as chancellor, Armin Laschet, travelling to flood-devastated areas. The two other leading candidates cancelled their summer holidays and sent messages of support.
Laschet, the chancellor candidate for Merkel’s conservative bloc, is state premier of North Rhine Westphalia, where several people died.
The weather is set to improve in the coming days, and the German Weather Service confirmed that the peak of extreme precipitation in parts of flood-hit western Germany had passed.
The Netherlands was also hit by extreme weather and deployed its army to deal with flooding at the border region with Germany.
The southern Dutch city of Maastricht called on some 10,000 citizens to leave their homes and seek safety from flooding.
Several neighbourhoods of the city in the province of Limburg would be evacuated, the city announced on Thursday evening. The Meuse is expected to overflow its banks so badly during the night that residential areas will be flooded.
The city of Roermond also evacuated neighbourhoods, with several hundred people having to leave their homes.
Troops were sent out to protect residents amid reports of water pouring through the streets in some towns and torrential rain resulting in a large number of cellars, apartments and business premises being flooded.
Hundreds of households are also reported to have no electricity with many roads and parts of the Netherlands’ highway system closed, the authorities said. Campsites have also been evacuated.
The water levels of the rivers in the Netherlands have risen rapidly due to the masses of water from Germany and Belgium. The army sent several hundred soldiers to help.
The Dutch royal couple had travelled to the flood-hit region on Thursday evening. They had spoken with affected citizens and mayors.
At least nine people have died in neighbouring Belgium as flood waters engulfed large parts of the country. The rescue services have been mobilized, the Belga news agency reported citing authorities, and some 3,000 people have been now been successfully evacuated from flooded areas.