WASSENBURG: Rescuers searched flood-ravaged parts of Germany and Belgium on Saturday for survivors after rivers erupted and flash floods this week collapsed houses and claimed at least 157 lives.
Some 133 people have died in the floods in western Germany, in the country’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 90 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police. Hundreds of people are still missing.
About 700 residents were evacuated Friday night after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg, near Cologne, authorities said.
“The water levels have stabilized since last night, you can say that the situation is stable,” said Wassenberg Mayor Marcel Maurer. “It is too early to give the go-ahead, but we are cautiously optimistic.”
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 24, according to the national crisis center, which is coordinating rescue efforts.
“Unfortunately, we have to assume that this number will continue to increase in the coming hours and days,” the center said in a statement. About 20 people are still missing.
In recent days, floods, which have mainly affected the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off power and communications to entire communities.
In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households without a clean supply.
Water levels fell slowly in the hardest-hit parts of Belgium, although the crisis center said the situation could worsen in the afternoon along the Demer river, closer to Brussels, with about 10 houses under threat of destruction.
Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published repair plans for the lines, some of which would be back in service until the end of August.
DUTCH ON HIGH ALERT
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened cities and towns throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, as soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically through Friday night to enforce the levees and prevent flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped the disaster on the scale of their neighbors, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were to visit Pepinster, where the houses were razed, on Saturday afternoon.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, were also scheduled to visit Erftstadt, one of the worst-hit cities.
Laschet is the candidate of the ruling CDU party in the September general elections. The devastation of the floods could intensify the debate on climate change ahead of the vote.
Scientists have long said that climate change will cause more intense rains. But determining its role in these relentless downpours will take at least several weeks of research, scientists said Friday.