Heavy rains and floods lashing western Germany have killed at least nine people and left around 50 missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse, police said on Thursday.
Four of the people reported dead were in the municipality of Schuld where a number houses were swept away by floods, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz told AFP.
Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) states were the worst hit by the unusually heavy rainfall, which has caused rivers to burst their banks and threatens to bring down further homes.
“The storms hit our state hard,” Rhineland-Palatinate Premier Malu Dreyer tweeted.
“I am worrying along with everyone who’s in danger,” she said, thanking “all the volunteers, fire fighters and emergency workers fighting tirelessly and with great effort against the deluge”.
NRW leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in September elections, hastily cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to keep tabs on the situation in his state.
Emergency workers struggled to evacuate people in endangered buildings and two firemen were killed in the line of duty in the towns of Altena and Wedohl.
Another two men died in flooded cellars in nearby Solingen and Unna while a further death was reported in Rheinbach.
Police set up a crisis hotline for people to report missing loved ones and residents were asked to send in videos and photos that could help them in the search.
Rescue workers were deployed in helicopters to pluck desperate people off streets and rooftops.
Regional official Juergen Pfoehler called on people to stay home “and, if possible, go to higher floors” of their homes.
“The situation is very serious,” he said.
– ‘Rarely experienced’ –
Neighboring Belgium has also seen several days of heavy rain that has caused rivers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia to burst their banks.
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 on Thursday, 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.
Belgium frequently experiences floods. Those in June 2016 were recognized as “calamities” by the Walloon region, giving the right to exceptional compensation.
But this year the country is experiencing a particularly rainy start to the summer.