Parts of Europe Get 2 Months' Worth of Rain in 2 Days, Over 50 Dead in Flooding

Parts of Western Europe were hit with two months' worth of rain in two days as intense flooding has led to over 50 deaths in Germany and Belgium as of Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

The recent storms caused rivers and reservoirs to overflow, creating flash floods that wiped out homes as dozens of people remain missing. Germany's village of Schuld, located in the Southwest Rhineland-Palatinate state, was one of the worst areas affected as many waited on the roofs of their homes to be rescued by crews on inflatable boats and helicopters. In the state, 19 deaths were reported.

In Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state, authorities said at least 30 people were killed and at least eight died in Belgium according to Belgian media.

"I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster," Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said amid her trip to the U.S. "We still don't know the number. But it will be many."

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised help for the areas hit by the floods and tweeted "my thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and those who have lost their homes."

Flooding in Europe
Parts of Western Europe saw two months' worth of rain in two days as over 50 have died from intense flooding. In this photo, damage is seen due to the floods in Verviers after heavy rainfall, Thursday 15 July 2021. Anthony Dehez/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The heavy floods turned streams and streets into raging torrents that swept away cars and caused houses to collapse.

Recent storms across parts of western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods overnight after the saturated soil couldn't absorb any more water.

Merkel pledged that everything would be done to find those still missing, adding: "'Heavy rain and flooding' doesn't capture what happened."

In Schuld several homes collapsed and dozens of people remained unaccounted for.

Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads and phone and internet outages across the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys. Some villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn't withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.

Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the small Ahr River surge in such a deadly torrent.

"This night, it was like madness," he said.

Hundreds of soldiers were deployed to assist in the rescue efforts.

"There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger," the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. "We have never seen such a disaster. It's really devastating."

The 52nd Civil Engineer squadron and several volunteers from the U.S. air base at Spangdahlem filled and distributed hundreds of sandbags to help protect homes and businesses in the area, the U.S. European Command said.

In Belgium, the Vesdre River spilled over its banks and sent water churning through the streets of Pepinster, near Liege, where a rescue operation by firefighters went wrong when a small boat capsized and three elderly people disappeared.

"Unfortunately, they were quickly engulfed," said Mayor Philippe Godin. "I fear they are dead."

In Verviers, the prosecutor's office said several bodies had been found but could not confirm local media reports that four people were killed there.

Major highways were inundated in southern and eastern parts of the country, and the railway said all trains were halted.

In Liege, a city of 200,000, the Meuse River overflowed its banks Thursday and the mayor asked people living nearby to move to higher ground.

The full extent of the damage was still unclear, with many villages cut off by floods and landslides that made roads impassable. Videos on social media showed cars floating down streets and houses partially collapsed.

Many of the dead were only discovered after floodwaters receded.

Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbach reservoir amid fears a dam could break.

Two firefighters died in rescue operations in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state.

Gov. Armin Laschet paid tribute to them and pledged swift help for those affected.

"We don't know the extent of the damage yet, but we won't leave the communities, the people affected alone," he said during a visit to the city of the flood-hit city of Hagen.

Laschet, a conservative who is running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in this fall's election, said the unusually heavy storms and an earlier heat wave could be linked to climate change.

Political opponents have criticized Laschet, the son of a miner, for supporting the region's coal industry and hampering the expansion of wind power during his tenure.

Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said it was unclear whether the extreme rainfall seen in Germany was a direct result of planetary warming.

"But one can state that such events are becoming more frequent due to global warming," he told The Associated Press, noting that warmer air can absorb more water vapor that eventually falls as rain.

"The increase in heavy rain and decrease in days with weak rain is now also clearly seen in observational data, especially in the mid-northern latitudes, which includes Germany," Rahmstorf said.

The weakening of the summer circulation of the atmosphere, causing longer-lasting weather patterns such as heat waves or continuous rain, might also play a role, he added.

Rainfall eased later Thursday across Germany, although water levels on the Mosel and Rhine rivers were expected to continue rising.

In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, visited the hard-hit Dutch town of Valkenburg on Thursday evening to support residents and emergency services. Flooding turned the main street into a torrent of brown water, inundating homes and businesses.

The Dutch government sent about 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg late Wednesday to help with evacuations and filling sandbags. Authorities said they expect to evacuate homes near swollen rivers Friday as water from Germany and Belgium churns through the Netherlands.

In northeastern France, heavy rains flooded vegetable fields, many homes and a World War I museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. Firefighters evacuated people from campgrounds around the town of Fresnes-en-Woevre, according to the local firefighter service. Bastille Day fireworks were canceled in some small towns.

The Aire River rose to its highest levels in 30 years in some areas, according to local newspaper L'Est Republicain.

The equivalent of two months of rain has fallen in some areas over two days, according to the French national weather service, with flood warnings issued for 10 regions. No injuries or deaths have been reported, but forecasters warned of mudslides and more rain on Friday.

Flooding in Germany
Parts of Western Europe saw two months' worth of rain in two days as over 50 have died from intense flooding. In this photo, the Ahr river floats past destroyed houses in Insul, Germany, Thursday, July 15, 2021. Michael Probst/AP Photo