At least 33 people have died and dozens are missing, according to regional officials, after heavy rains triggered flash floods in parts of Germany, damaging homes and disrupting transport.
The deaths reported on Thursday were in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate where around the wine-growing hub of Ahrweiler 18 people died due to the extreme weather conditions.
In the small town of Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate, four houses were swept away by rising floodwaters, while two others were partly washed away. Some 50 to 70 people are missing, the authorities said.
“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.”
The full extent of the damage in the region was still unclear after many villages were cut off by floodwater and landslides that made roads impassable.
Video footage from Bad Neuenahr, about 60km (37 miles) northwest of Koblenz, showed cars and trucks strewn across streets and one sport-utility vehicle perched on a fence, a road blocked by wreckage and fallen trees as floodwaters receded.
Authorities in the western German region of Euskirchen said eight deaths had been reported there in connection with the floods. Rescue operations were hampered by the fact that phone and internet connections were down in parts of the county, which is southwest of Cologne.
“What you see here now is worse than after a bombing raid,” Rosa Lahagner, a resident of the historic spa town of Bad Muenstereifel, told The Associated Press news agency, adding that local businesses would face difficulties for years to come.
Another resident, Siegfried Berg, called it “an emergency like World War II”.
Authorities used inflatable boats and helicopters, and the German army deployed 200 soldiers to assist in the rescue operation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her shock at the scale of the catastrophe.
“I am shocked by the catastrophe that so many people in the flood areas have to endure,” Merkel said in a tweet, posted by her press spokesman. “My sympathy goes to the families of the dead and missing,” she said. “To the many tireless helpers and emergency workers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Authorities have declared an emergency in the region after days of torrential downpours caused disruption in rail, road and river transport.
Police said two men, aged 77 and 82, died after their houses’ basements were flooded in the western cities of Kamen and Wuppertal, where authorities warned that a dam could burst. Police in the western city of Koblenz said four people had died in Ahrweiler county.
A firefighter drowned on Wednesday during rescue work in the western German town of Altena, and another man was missing in the eastern town of Joehstadt after disappearing while trying to secure his property from rising waters, authorities said.
In the city of Trier, about 2,000 residents have been stranded due to the flooding, the authorities said. About 470 people were evacuated from a hospital in the city of Leverkusen after the emergency power failed overnight.
In Solingen, about 600 people were also forced to abandon their homes.
Heavy rainstorms are expected in southwestern Germany on Thursday, with continuous rains until Friday evening, the German Weather Service warned in a morning bulletin.