A reservoir dam in western Germany is in danger of collapsing as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit flood-ravaged areas today as the death toll in Germany and Belgium rose to at least 180 after burst rivers and flash floods collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines.
Authorities in the Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne said the Steinbachtal dam is at serious risk of breaching after around 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream. The nearby stretch of Autobahn 61 is also completely closed.
Other dams in the area have also overflowed, and draining is also taking place at the Rurtalsperre dam, Wupper dam and the Bever dam near Radevormwald. The residents along the Wupper River were asked to leave the area immediately, local media report.
The Steinbachtal dam, which was built in the 1930s, has undergone renovation twice – in the 1940s, after two cracks appeared in the reservoir’s crown and erosion was detected in its clay core; and between August 1988 and June 1990 amid fears of further erosion.
Ms Merkel is expected to travel to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld, on Sunday. At least 180 people were killed in the flooding, including about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down. Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
‘Everything is completely destroyed. You don’t recognise the scenery,’ said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people. He added it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros, could be assessed.
‘We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members,’ he said. ‘Their fate is ripping our hearts apart. It’s too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic.’
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said. But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night.
Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party’s candidate in September’s general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
There are fears the crisis could worsen the a dam at the Steinbach reservoir (insert) on the verge of collapse due to the pressure of water behind it, as 4,500 people living in three villages below (top right) told to evacuate their homes
Wrecked cars and trucks are flooded on the B265 federal highway in Erftstadt, Germany
A drone photo shows an aerial view of vehicles piled up on a flooded road in Erfstadt, Germany
Clearing tanks of German Army, the Technical Relief Organization (THW) and rescue workers clear wrecked cars and trucks from the B265 federal highway in Erftstadt, Germany
Firemen pump out water from an underground parking garage following heavy floods in Euskirchen, western Germany, on July 18, 2021
A resident passes a pile of debris in a street following heavy floods in Euskirchen, western Germany, on July 18, 2021
A wrecked classic car is seen amid debris washed away by heavy flooding in western Europe which has killed 150
Workers clear a destroyed street after the floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
A view of destroyed houses in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, which were destroyed after the ground beneath them collapsed into a nearby gravel pit
Three firefighters look at severely damaged ancient houses after the floods caused major damage in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
Gravestones are barely visible above floodwaters in the Erftstadt region of Germany, after the river Erft burst its banks
Cow is found alive 60 MILES from its pasture after being washed away in Dutch floods
Stunned rescuers in the Netherlands have found a cow alive 60 miles from its pasture after it was washed away in devastating flood that hit the south of the country.
The cow went missing from a farm in Echt in Limburg, near the river Meuse which broke its banks amid flooding overnight Wednesday, before being found on Saturday in the town of Maas.
Passersby noticed the animal submerged in water with only its snout visible before calling emergency crews, who pulled the beast out.
A vet was then summoned to examine the animal who then discovered where it had come from. The farmer has been contacted, and is on the way to retrieve it.
‘It is very surprising,’ one rescuer told local station Omroep Brabant.
‘We don’t know whether the animal travelled the whole way in the water, or whether there were also parts in which the cow walked.’
The death toll from flooding in Germany and Belgium climbed above 180 on Sunday after rescue workers dug deeper into debris left by receding waters.
Police put the toll from the hard-hit Ahrweiler area of western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state at 110 and said they feared the number may still rise.
In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 45 people were confirmed dead, including four firefighters. Belgium has confirmed 27 casualties.
There was also flooding on Saturday in the German-Czech border area, across the country from where last week’s floods hit, and in Germany’s south-eastern corner and over the border in Austria.
Some 65 people were evacuated from their homes in Germany’s Berchtesgaden area after the Ache River swelled. At least one person was killed. A flash flood swept through the nearby Austrian town of Hallein late Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter that heavy rain and storms were causing serious damage in several parts of Austria.
As the waters began to recede in Rhineland-Palatinate and neighbouring North-Rhine Westphalia, concern shifted south to Germany’s Upper Bavaria region, where heavy rains inundated basements and swelled rivers and creeks late Saturday.
One person died in Berchtesgadener Land, a spokeswoman for the Bavarian district told AFP.
Ms Merkel has called the floods a ‘tragedy’ and pledged support from the federal government for Germany’s stricken municipalities.
Speaking alongside US President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday, the German Chancellor said her ‘heart goes out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones’.
The disaster has increasingly taken on political overtones in Germany, which heads to the polls on September 26 for a general election that will mark the end of Ms Merkel’s 16 years in power.
With experts saying climate change is making extreme weather events like these more likely, candidates vying to succeed the veteran leader have called for more climate action.
Armin Laschet, the premier of hard-hit North-Rhine Westphalia state and frontrunner in the race for the chancellery, said efforts to tackle global warming should be ‘speeded up’.
But Mr Laschet, who heads Ms Merkel’s CDU party currently leading in opinion polls, scored an own goal Saturday when he was filmed laughing in the devastated town of Erftstadt in NRW, where a landslide was triggered by the floods.
In the footage, Mr Laschet could be seen chatting and joking in the background as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a statement expressing his sympathies to grieving families. He later apologised on Twitter for the ‘inappropriate’ moment.
The scale of the flood impact was gradually becoming clear in Germany, with damaged buildings being assessed, some of which will have to be demolished, and efforts under way to restore gas, electricity and telephone services.
Julia Dillenburger, 39, (left) from Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, was unaccounted for on Saturday morning. Karl-Heinz Zimmermann (right), a 93-year-old grandfather from Bad Neuenahr was another missing
A second family – Nicole Berg (left), Patrick Berg, and their son Dennis (left) – were among the missing. Husband and wife Aida Maria, 74, and Klaus Wolfgang Huber, 76, (right) are unaccounted for and were last heard from on Wednesday evening
Diana Janko, 60, (left) was last seen a few days ago on Facebook video call. While Gerhard Hubner, 60, (right) was also among the missing. He was last seen on Wednesday evening
Search and rescue efforts continued on Saturday morning with hundreds still missing following severe rain and flash floods in Germany
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the disaster zone in Belgium on Saturday with Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and vice Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne
German soldiers helped the rescue efforts on Saturday, recovering cars that had been swept away in flash flooding
Frontrunner in race to succeed Angela Merkel as German Chancellor sparks fury after he was caught laughing during visit to flood-ravaged town
The frontrunner in the race to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor sparked fury after he was caught laughing during a visit to a town devastated by flooding.
Armin Laschet was filmed joking with colleagues behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he expressed sympathies with flood victims in hard-hit Erftstadt.
At one point, the 60-year-old leader of Merkel’s CDU party can be seen breaking into laughter for several seconds.
‘Laschet laughs while the country cries,’ the best-selling Bild daily said on its website.
Commentators and politicians were quick to condemn Laschet on social media.
‘I’m speechless,’ tweeted Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the centre-left Social Democrats, who govern together with the CDU/CSU bloc.
‘This is all apparently a big joke to (Laschet),’ wrote Maximilian Reimers from the far-left Die Linke opposition party. ‘How could he be a chancellor?’
Laschet later apologised on Twitter for the ‘inappropriate’ moment.
In some areas, soldiers used armoured vehicles to clear the debris clogging streets. In NRW, divers were sent in to search submerged homes and vehicles.
Local authorities in NRW and Rhineland-Palatinate said dozens of people remain unaccounted for across both states. They have stressed, however, that disruption to communication networks made a precise assessment difficult, and the real number of missing could be lower.
Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rhineland-Palatinate, said more than 670 people were injured.
‘I’ve lived here my whole life, I was born here, and I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said Gregor Degen, a baker in the devastated spa town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, near Schuld.
Across the border in Belgium, the death toll jumped to 27 with many people still missing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Alexander de Croo visited the flooded areas of Rochefort and Pepinster together on Saturday.
‘Europe is with you,’ Ms von der Leyen tweeted afterwards. ‘We are with you in mourning and we will be with you in rebuilding.’
Belgium has declared Tuesday a day of official mourning.
Cops in the hard-hit region of Euskirchen, western Germany, warned people flying photography drones over badly flooded areas that they are interfering with emergency service drones searching for hundreds of people that remain missing.
Meanwhile the mayor of Olne, a small Belgian town between the cities of Liege and Verviers which were submerged when the Meuse and Vestre rivers broke their banks, slammed ‘reprehensible’ visitors clogging up the roads with cars and preventing emergency vehicles from getting through.
And in the Netherlands, local volunteers complained that out-of-towners have been stealing their bikes after they cycled to help with the cleanup, while shop-owners cleaning out their ruined businesses said items had been stolen when they turned their backs.
Authorities in Roermond, in the badly-hit Limburg region, even went so far as to threaten gawpers with fines as they continued to arrive Friday. ‘Give all emergency services space to do their work,’ a statement said.
Days of heavy rain turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents.
Immediately after the floods hit on Wednesday and Thursday, German authorities listed large numbers of people as missing – something apparently caused in large part by confusion, multiple reporting and communications difficulties in the affected areas, some of which lacked electricity and telephone service.
By Saturday, authorities still feared finding more people dead, but said numbers unaccounted for had dropped constantly, without offering specific figures.
In Belgium, 103 people were listed as missing Saturday, but the crisis center said lost or uncharged cellphones and people taken to hospitals without identification who hadn’t had an opportunity to contact relatives were believed to be factors in the tally.
Meanwhile, the receding floodwaters eased access across much of the affected regions and revealed the extent of the damage.
‘A lot of people have lost everything they spent their lives building up – their possessions, their home, the roof over their heads,’ German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting rescue workers and others in the town of Erftstadt.
He added that people in the affected areas need continuing support.
In Erftstadt, a town southwest of Cologne, a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday when the ground in a neighborhood gave way. At least three houses and part of a mansion in the town’s Blessem district collapsed.
The German military used armored vehicles to clear away cars and trucks overwhelmed by the floodwaters on a nearby road, some of which remained at least partly submerged.
Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but no casualties were confirmed by Saturday afternoon.
In the Ahrweiler area, police warned of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away. They complained on Twitter that would-be sightseers were blocking some roads.
Around 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg, on the Dutch border, after the breach of a dike on the Rur river.
Search and rescue workers check submerged cars for hundreds of people still missing following days of heavy rainfall and flooding in Germany
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (second left) and Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet (second right) visited Erftstadt fire department to get an overview of flooding in the region
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (centre) visited flooded parts of the city of Venlo in the Netherlands on Friday following days of severe rain and flooding
Search and rescue services look amid the debris for survivors after days of heavy rainfall and severe flooding in Pepinster, Belgium
Search and rescue services resumed looking for flood survivors in Pepinster, Belgium, on Saturday with hundreds still missing and at least 153 confirmed dead
Residents survey the damage caused by days of heavy rainfall and flooding in Pepinster, Belgium, on Saturday
Residents start a lengthy clean-up in Pepinster, Belgium, after flash floods caused widespread damage in large areas of the country
Search and rescue teams looked through rubble in Pepinster, Belgium, on Saturday, hoping to find flood survivors
Residents start to clear up broken trees and debris strewn across streets in Pepinster, Belgium, after the town was devastated by flash floods
Residents in Ahrweiler, western Germany, start the clean up after heavy rains caused mudslides and flooding in the region
Volunteers prepare food for flood affected residents in Rochefort, south east of Brussels, after the region was hit by severe flooding
The German fire brigade pump water out of the Steinbach dam after engineers warned the dam was dangerously close to collapse after three months’ worth of rain fell on the region in just one week
Submerged trucks and vehicles started to re-emerge on Saturday following days of extreme flooding, Germany’s worst floods in more than 200 years
Residents fill sandbags as they prepare for further flooding after days of heavy rainfall in Erftstadt Dirmerzheim, Germany
Visiting Erftstadt with Steinmeier, North Rhine-Westphalia governor Armin Laschet promised to organize aid for those immediately affected ‘in the coming days.’
He said regional and federal authorities would discuss in the coming days how to help rebuilding efforts. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet plans to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
‘We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt,’ Laschet said.
In eastern Belgium, train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas.
A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Friday to offer comfort to residents.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited flood-damaged towns Saturday.
A resident of the Belgian town of Herk-de-Stad said she put off sleeping to try to empty her house of water.
‘We have been pumping all night long trying to get the water out of the house,’ Elke Lenaerts told broadcaster VTM on Saturday.
Parts of the southern Netherlands also experienced heavy flooding, though thousands of residents were allowed to return home Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that ‘first, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery.’
‘It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,’ the southern province hit by the floods, he added.
His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
Among other efforts to help the flood victims, the Hertog Jan brewery, which is based in the affected area, handed out 3,000 beer crates so locals could raise their belongings off the ground to protect them from the flooding.
An emergency dike in the town of Horn didn’t hold and some houses were inundated. Authorities issued a warning to stay off the Maas River because of debris, and rescuers worked to save a cow stuck neck deep in muddy waters.
German Bundeswehr soldiers help search for flood victims in submerged vehicles on the highway in Erftstadt-Blessem
A soldier tries to open the window of a car as members of the German armed forces help the search for flood victims
Germany’s Bundeswehr forces used heavily armoured vehicles to recover vehicles stuck on roads in Erftstadt-Blessem after days of heavy flooding
Members of the Bundeswehr forces were deployed to aid the recovery of vehicles following heavy rainfall and flooding in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany
A pile of broke trees and rubbish in a flooded area of Kreuzberg, Germany, following days of flash flooding that has killed at least 153 people
Debris piled up in Kreuzberg, Germany, on July 17, in central Europe’s latest flooding disaster that has killed at least 133 in Germany alone
Debris and broken trees lined up alongside a railway in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, following days of extreme weather
A woman walks between donations in kind that are lying in a hall on the grounds of the Nuerburgring race track in Nuerburg, western Germany
Residents started clearing rubble on Saturday after days of severe flooding in Valkenburg aan de Geul, the Netherlands