Flooding Kills at Least 22 in Western Europe

Strong rains caused rivers to burst their banks and overloaded sewage systems, sending water surging through towns in Germany. In Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, water inundated streets and flooded homes.,


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BERLIN — Severe flooding overnight in western Germany and Belgium has killed at least 22 people, with dozens of others missing and still more stranded on rooftops as severe storms inundated towns and cities across a swath of Western Europe.

Swift-moving water from swollen rivers surged through cities and villages in three western German states, leading to the deaths of at least 20 people, the authorities there said on Thursday. In Belgium, at least two people were killed in severe flooding, and the military was sent to assist with recovery efforts. The storms also battered neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands.

“We have no exact numbers of dead, but can say that we have many people who have become victims of this flood,” Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia’s governor — who is running to replace Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor in national elections on Sept. 26 — told reporters on Thursday.

“Many people lost everything that they own after the mud flowed into their homes,” said Mr. Laschet, who cut short a campaign stop in Bavaria to visit Hagen, one of the hardest-hit areas in the state.

The flooding in the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia was some of the worst in decades, after several days of steady rain. Parts of the highway were closed because of the flooding, and Germany’s main rail provider, Deutsche Bahn, urged travelers to cancel all trips in the affected region.

“It is a catastrophe,” said Malu Dryer, Rhineland-Palatinate’s governor. “We have dead, missing and many who are still in danger.”

The authorities in the district of Euskirchen, south of Dusseldorf, said that at least eight people were known to have died in the area. Many others were still being rescued, although some villages remained unreachable.

Ms. Merkel, who is visiting Washington, expressed shock at the loss of life and the extent of the damage caused by the storms. “My sympathies go out to the families of the dead and missing,” the chancellor said via her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, on Thursday.

Jurgen Pfohler, the district commissioner of the state’s Aberweiler region, described the situation as “very serious.” He urged residents to stay in their homes and make their way to higher levels if possible while awaiting help.

Hundreds of firefighters worked through the night to evacuate people who had been left stranded. Two died while trying to rescue people in Altena, in North Rhine-Westphalia, the police said.


Firefighters moving sandbags against rising river water in the Dusseldorf area of Germany on Wednesday.Credit…Sascha Steinbach/EPA, via Shutterstock

“The water is still flowing knee-high through the streets, parked cars are thrown sideways, and trash and debris are piling up on the sides,” Alexander Bange, the district spokesman in the Markische region of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the German news agency D.P.A.

“It is really very depressing here,” he said, adding, “The only good thing is that it stopped raining last night.”

Six homes in the town of Schuld in the Eifel region collapsed after hours of strong rain strained sewer systems and caused rivers and streams to burst their banks, the authorities said. Several other homes were evacuated over fears that they might collapse, and the police received calls that dozens of people were missing.

Images from Rhineland-Palatinate showed villages submerged in murky brown water. Dozens of communities were left without power, while some villages were cut off entirely, the police said. Cellphone networks were also down.

The authorities urged residents to upload photos and videos of the storm to help efforts to find the people reported as missing.

In the city of Wuppertal, sirens sounded just after midnight to warn people living near the Wupper river to evacuate. Much of the city remained closed early Thursday as hundreds of firefighters worked to rescue stranded people.

Neighboring Belgium and the Netherlands also experienced significant flooding as the weather system made its way across the region. In Belgium, at least two people were reported to have died in Liege Province as a result of the flooding, according to Belgian’s public broadcaster, RTBF. The Belgian Defense Force said it had deployed helicopters and personnel to assist the local authorities in rescue and recovery efforts.

In the Netherlands, soldiers were deployed to help with evacuations in Limburg Province, where at least one nursing home had to be cleared, according to the Dutch news outlet NU.nl.

Intense rain in Switzerland led the country’s weather service to warn on Thursday that flooding would worsen in the coming days. It said there was a high risk of flooding on Lake Biel, Lake Thun and Lake Lucerne, and noted the potential for landslides.

Megan Specia contributed reporting.

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