Everywhere, rescue efforts during the flooding in Central Europe were hampered. Electricity and communications networks were down, roads and bridges were washed out, drinking water was scarce. The worst hit were thinly populated, rural areas.
At least 50 people had been confirmed dead in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, where the Ahr river swelled its banks on Wednesday, sending rushing torrents of water through towns and villages, washing away everything in its wake — cars, homes and businesses.
“Many of the roads are closed and there are bridges that simply aren’t there any more,” a spokesman for the police in Koblenz said of the region surrounding the Ahr river.
The disaster was not limited to Germany. The broadcaster RTBF reported at least 12 dead in Belgium, where the Meuse river overflowed its banks, flooding villages and the center of Liège, leaving thousands without power.
“Emergency calls are coming from the houses, but in many cases a rescue is not possible,” authorities in Cologne, Germany, said in a statement. They released photographs showing a large, dark sinkhole where the saturated earth appeared to have simply given way, taking homes and buildings with it.
In Trier, near the border with Luxembourg, German television showed people being evacuated from threatened neighborhoods in the shovels of earth movers. Health care workers wheeled patients down the streets in their beds.
In Switzerland, where more rain was expected in the northern Alps on Friday, the authorities warned of a further rise in the water levels at major lakes and rivers that could cause additional flooding. In the city of Lucerne, where Lake Lucerne reached critical levels, bridges and roadways had been closed off after flooding.
In the city of Schleitheim, Switzerland, where a river burst its banks, residents recorded videos of cars being washed through the streets in a swirling flood of muddy water and debris.
The Netherlands was spared the death and destruction that hit Germany and Belgium. But in the southern city of Valkenburg, damage was severe. Hundreds of houses were without power and the center of the city was flooded.
“The damage is incalculable,” Mayor Daan Prevoo of Valkenburg told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. He predicted the repairs would take weeks.