At least 42 people have died in Germany and dozens were missing on Thursday as swollen rivers caused by record rainfall across western Europe swept through towns.
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As the water started to recede, stunned residents in the worst affected towns inspected what was left of their homes and neighbourhoods.
Eighteen people died and dozens were unaccounted for around Ahrweiler, in Rhineland-Palatinate state, police said, after the Ahr river that flows into the Rhine broke its banks and brought down half a dozen houses.
Another 15 people died in the Euskirchen region south of the city of Bonn, authorities said. People in the region were asked to evacuate their homes and emergency workers were pumping water from a dam south of Euskirchen town, fearing it could burst.
In Belgium, two men died due to the torrential rain and a 15-year-old girl was missing after being swept away by an overflowing river.
Hundreds of soldiers and 2,500 relief workers were helping police with rescue efforts in Germany. Tanks were deployed to clear roads of landslides and fallen trees and helicopters winched those stranded on rooftops to safety.
Around 200,000 households lost power due to the floods.
In Belgium, around 10 houses collapsed in Pepinster after the river Vesdre flooded the eastern town and residents were evacuated from more than 1,000 homes.
The rain also caused severe disruption to public transport, with high-speed Thalys train services to Germany cancelled. Traffic on the river Meuse is also suspended as the major Belgian waterway threatened to breach its banks.
Downstream in the Netherlands, flooding rivers damaged many houses in the southern province of Limburg, where several care homes were evacuated.
In addition to the fatalities in the Euskirchen region, another nine people, including two firefighters, died elsewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia. Further down the Rhine river, the heaviest rainfall ever measured over 24 hours caused flooding in cities including Cologne and Hagen, while in Leverkusen 400 people had to be evacuated from a hospital.
Weather experts said that rain in the region over the past 24 hours had been unprecedented, as a near-stationary low-pressure weather system also caused sustained local downpours to the west in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. ■