Berlin: The death toll from disastrous flooding in Western Europe rose above 150 on Saturday as rescue workers toiled to clear up the devastation revealed by receding water and prevent further damage.
Police said that more than 90 people are now known to have died in western Germany’s Ahrweiler county, one of the worst-hit areas, and more casualties are feared. On Friday, authorities gave a death toll of 63 for Rhineland-Palatinate state, where Ahrweiler is located.
Another 43 people were confirmed dead in neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous. Belgium’s national crisis centre put the confirmed death toll in that country at 24 and said it expects the number to rise.
By Saturday, waters were receding across much of the affected regions, laying bare the extent of the damage.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier planned to travel Saturday to Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday as people were trapped when the ground gave way. At least three houses and part of a mansion in the town’s Blessem district collapsed.
The German military used armoured vehicles on Saturday to clear away cars and trucks overwhelmed by the floodwaters on a nearby road, some of which were still at least partly submerged. Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but by Saturday morning no casualties had been confirmed.
In the Ahrweiler area, police warned people of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away. They complained on Twitter that would-be sightseers were blocking some roads.
Many areas were still without electricity and telephone service - something that, along with multiple counting in some cases, appeared to have accounted in part for large numbers of missing people that authorities gave immediately after the floods hit on Wednesday and Thursday.
Around 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg, on the Dutch border, after the breach of a dike on the Rur river.
Roads blocked in Belgium
Train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas of eastern Belgium. The national railway service said traffic would start returning to normal on Monday.
A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Friday to offer comfort to residents.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo were visiting flood-damaged towns Saturday, according to Belgian state broadcaster RTBF.
In addition to worst-hit Germany and Belgium, southern parts of the Netherlands also have been hit by heavy flooding.
Volunteers worked through the night to shore up dikes and protect roads. Thousands of residents of the southern Dutch towns of Bunde, Voulwames, Brommelen and Geulle were allowed to return home Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that the region faced “three disasters.”
“First, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery,” he said. “It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
Among other efforts to help the flood victims, Dutch brewery Hertog Jan, which is based in the affected area, handed out 3,000 beer crates to locals to help them raise their belongings off the ground to protect them from the flooding.
In Switzerland, heavy rain has caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks, with authorities in the city of Lucerne closing several pedestrian bridges over the Reuss river.