The death toll from devastating floods across parts of western Germany and Belgium rose above 90 on Friday, as the search continued for hundreds of people still unaccounted for.
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 50 people had died there. In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, state officials put the death toll at 30, but warned that the figure could rise further.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported at least 12 dead in the country.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Washington, expressing shock at the scope of the flooding.
She pledged everything would be done to find those still missing, adding: “’Heavy rain and flooding’ doesn’t capture what happened.”
Among the worst-hit German villages was Schuld, where 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 could not 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.
Dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses with inflatable boats and helicopters. 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.”
Rescuers were rushing on Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne in Germany, where several houses were at risk of collapse after floodwaters laid bare the foundations.
Three people were rescued from the Wurm River in Heinsberg county late on Thursday.
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Armin Laschet, has called an emergency Cabinet meeting on Friday.
The 60-year-old’s handling of the flood disaster is widely seen as a test for his ambitions to succeed Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s national election on September 26.
The German army has deployed 900 soldiers to help with the rescue and clear-up efforts.
Thousands of people remain homeless after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities, including several villages around the Steinbach reservoir that experts say could collapse under the weight of the floods.
Across the border in Belgium, most of the drowned were found around Liege, where the rains hit hardest. Skies were largely overcast in eastern Belgium, with hopes rising that the worst of the calamity was over.