Recent storms across parts of western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods and claiming 59 lives in Germany and killing 9 people in Belgium.

The Ahr River floats past destroyed houses in Insul, Germany, July 15, 2021.
The Ahr River floats past destroyed houses in Insul, Germany, July 15, 2021. (AP)

Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 59 people in Germany and nine in Belgium, and many more people are missing as rising waters caused several houses to collapse.

In Germany, which is experiencing one of the worst weather disasters since World War II, desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as rescue helicopters circled above.

Unusually heavy rains also inundated neighbouring Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium.

On a visit to Washington on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her "heart goes out" to the victims of the flooding.

"I fear that we will only see the full extent of the disaster in the coming days," she said, adding that the government is doing its “utmost to help [people] in their distress.”

She vowed that the government would do "everything in its power to, under the most difficult circumstances, save lives, prevent danger and ease suffering.”

Rescue efforts continue

Around 15,000 members of the German emergency services, police and army were on the ground in the worst-hit areas.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to survey the damage in his state, Germany's most populous.

"We will stand by the towns and people who've been affected," Laschet, clad in rubber boots, told reporters in the town of Hagen.

He called for "speeding up" global efforts to fight climate change, underlining the link between global warming and extreme weather.

"A lot of the people" reported missing were on the roofs of houses that were swept away by floods in the municipality of Schuld, a police spokesperson in the city of Koblenz said on Thursday. 

Schuld is in a region of North Rhine-Westphalia, worst hit by the storms which have caused rivers to burst their banks.

"There are many places where fire brigades and rescue workers have been deployed. We don't yet have a very precise picture because rescue measures are continuing," the police spokesperson said.

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Houses are submerged on the overflowed river banks in Erdorf, Germany, as the village was flooded, July 15, 2021.
Houses are submerged on the overflowed river banks in Erdorf, Germany, as the village was flooded, July 15, 2021. (AP)

Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

"Nobody was expecting this, where did all this rain come from? It's crazy," she told AFP.

"It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down."

Chancellor Merkel thanked the "tireless volunteers and emergency service workers" at the scene.

A photo, taken with a drone, shows the devastation caused by the flooding of the Ahr River in the Eifel village of Schuld, western Germany, July 15, 2021.
A photo, taken with a drone, shows the devastation caused by the flooding of the Ahr River in the Eifel village of Schuld, western Germany, July 15, 2021. (AP)

Two firefighters died in the Sauerland region, northeast of Bonn, on Wednesday, police said. The news agency DPA said one had drowned and a second had collapsed after a rescue operation.

Rail and road transport were disrupted, and shipping on the Rhine, an important trade artery, was suspended.

More heavy rain was due in southwestern Germany, on the upper reaches of the German Rhine, on Thursday and Friday, the German Weather Service said. 

'Rarely experienced' 

Neighbouring Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks. Nine were reported dead.

The provinces of Liege and Namur were especially affected, with the resort town of Spa completely flooded. 

In the town of Chaudfontaine, daily Le Soir reported that nearly 1,800 people had to evacuate.

"We have rarely experienced such intense flooding. You have to go back to 1998 to have experienced this," Chaudefontaine mayor Daniel Bacquelaine told RTL radio.

The country's Infrabel rail network said it was suspending services in the southern half of the country, given the risks to travel.

"It is indeed impossible to ensure the safe movement of trains for passengers or to have access to strategic areas for their staff," Transport Minister Georges Gilkinet told Belga news agency.

The southern Dutch province of Limburg, which is bordered by Germany and Belgium, also reported widespread damage with rising waters threatening to cut off the small city of Valkenburg west of Maastricht.

Local news footage showed small rivers of water flowing through the scenic city centre's streets and at least one senior home had been evacuated.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg government set up a crisis cell to respond to emergencies triggered by heavy rains overnight as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel reported "several homes" had been flooded and were "no longer inhabitable".

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies