The death toll from the floods that devastated parts of western Germany rose to at least 103, with scores of people unaccounted for after houses collapsed and roads and bridges were badly damaged.
Many rail lines and streets remained blocked and tens of thousands were without electricity Friday as rescue workers toiled in the worst-hit areas in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia — which is run by conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet — and Rhineland-Palatinate.
While Germany was hardest hit, heavy rains Wednesday night and into Thursday also swamped parts of Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium. RTBF TV reported at least 15 deaths in Belgium, where train and road networks have been badly disrupted in the southeast of the country.
”This is really a catastrophe and the suffering is increasing all the time,” said Malu Dreyer, the premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, warning that the disaster was more evidence of the impact of global warming.
"We have more than 50 deaths to mourn and still people who are missing,” Dreyer said in an interview with ZDF television, adding that police helicopters alone had rescued more than 300 stranded on Thursday. "The pain is acute in our region and we have never seen anything like this.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel interrupted her U.S. trip on Thursday to make a statement in which she pledged swift federal government assistance backed by "all the power of the state.” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said all of Germany’s armed forces not involved in missions abroad were focusing their resources on the recovery effort.
While many smaller, family-owned businesses in the area have been hit hard, the effects on Germany’s main industrial areas have been limited so far.
BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical producer, has experienced some delays to receiving goods via barge and train, but these haven’t yet led to production outages, the company said.
RWE AG was forced to halt operations at the Tagebau Inden open-cast lignite mine after water from the Inde River penetrated the facility and one worker is missing.
The flooding is among the most severe in western Germany in decades. Residents climbed onto rooftops and into trees after houses were inundated or collapsed. Thousands of homes were without power and phone connections for hours.
Weather conditions should normalize next week, which may provide some relief, national weather forecaster Deutscher Wetterdienst said Friday in its latest four-week forecast. But there could be more heavy rain in Germany from July 26 to early August, it said.
Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said river levels are high for this time of year, and are expected to swell even further over the next few days.
"These kind of high-energy, sudden summer torrents of rain are exactly what we expect in our rapidly heating climate,” Cloke said.
"The fact that other parts of the northern hemisphere are currently suffering record-breaking heat waves and fires should serve as a reminder of just how much more dangerous our weather could become in an ever-warmer world.”
Munich Re expects damage from thunderstorms and other natural catastrophes in Germany to continue to increase, the reinsurance company’s chief climatologist, Ernst Rauch, told Der Spiegel magazine Friday.
The GDV insurers’ association said that the prevalence of storms, floods, heavy rain and hail in Germany this year could make it one of the most damaging since 2013.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Thursday declared a natural disaster, saying his country hadn’t seen water levels that high in 100 years.
While Luxembourg so far counted no injured or dead, the floods have had "dramatic consequences,” with at least 400 people having to be relocated, he said.
In Belgium, waters are still rising downstream as the Meuse river flows through to Flanders and the Netherlands, with Flemish broadcaster VRT saying the river is now nearly a mile wide in places where it usually spans just 50 meters.
The southern province of Limburg was hit hardest in the Netherlands as thousands of people living there were forced to leave their homes and businesses closed.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared the flood-hit region a disaster area, which means that businesses and people living in the area can receive compensation for damages.
"Science tells us that with climate change we see more and more extreme weather phenomena that last longer,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference in Dublin Friday, when asked about the floods.
"It is the intensity and the length of these events where science tells us this a clear indication of climate change and that this is something where it really really shows the urgency to act.”
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