Rescuers rush to find survivors of deadly floods in Europe

Rescuers rush to find survivors of deadly floods in Europe

AHRWEILER, Germany – The tombstones have been knocked over, almost completely submerged in the mud. Nearby, a destroyed SUV appeared to have fallen from the sky.

But the damage in the medieval walled town of Ahrweiler, Germany on Saturday was not unique. In large swathes of western Germany and several other European countries, rescuers have worked hard to remove the catastrophic flood damage revealed by receding waters and prevent further damage.

“It looks like war here, like a bomb has gone off,” Niklas Walbroel, 28, told NBC News as he helped dig up his friend’s appliance store.

“You never, ever, ever expect to see this in Europe,” the port worker added, emptying putrid water from washing machines and piling destroyed flat-screen TVs in the mud. “Yesterday we just cried, but we’re doing our best to save what we can.”

Along the road, his neighbors were also helping with the cleanup efforts. Cafes and restaurants that were packed with tourists last week are now part of the disaster area.

Across Europe, the death toll topped 150 on Saturday, and police said more than 90 people had died in western Ahrweiler County, where the town is located. Experts said failure to heed warnings about heavy rains was likely to be responsible for the high number of deaths.

Rescue teams rushed to find survivors as hundreds more remain missing after swollen rivers spilled into the streets, devastating communities, crushing cars and reducing some homes to ruins. Mobile phone networks have collapsed in some areas, leaving people unable to contact loved ones, while many areas remain without electricity.

The German Defense Ministry also deployed 850 troops to 18 districts in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate to assist with rescue efforts.

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In the town of Ophoven in North Rhine-Westphalia, evacuation efforts continued after the Rurdamm dam, located along the Rur river, broke on Friday afternoon, a government spokesperson said of the Cologne district.

About 700 people from the nearby town of Ohe were successfully evacuated on Friday, they said, adding that there was growing concern over the Steinbach dam, which is carrying too much water and is in danger of collapsing.

Authorities release 7 cubic meters of water per second and have released 260,000 cubic meters so far, the spokesperson said. A total of 700,000 cubic meters will have to be released to stabilize the dam.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is due to visit the hard-hit town of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia on Saturday, accompanied by regional chief Armin Laschet.

People clean their homes from mud and debris in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, on Saturday.Michael Probst / AP

In neighboring Belgium, at least 27 deaths were reported on Saturday, according to state broadcaster RTBF, which reported that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo were visiting towns damaged by the fire on Saturday. floods.

Tens of thousands of people in the Netherlands have also been evacuated in the past two days, and emergency services remained on high alert until Saturday.

Acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said it was facing “three disasters”.

“First there was the crown, now this flooding and soon people will have to work on the cleanup and salvage,” he said. “It’s disaster, after disaster, after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg”, a province affected by the floods. His government declared the floods a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.

Raf Sanchez reported from Ahrweiler and Rhea Mogul from Hong Kong.

The Associated Press contributed.