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‘It went so fast. You tried to do something and it was already too late.’

One of the places in Germany hardest hit by the flooding was tiny Schuld, where the sheer speed with which the destruction arrived shocked many in the once-tidy village of half-timbered houses decorated with geranium-filled flower boxes.

After the river swelled late Wednesday, carrying vehicles bobbing like bath toys, six houses collapsed entirely, and half of those that remained standing had gaping holes torn by floating debris, now piled in a jumble in the streets.

“It went so fast. You tried to do something and it was already too late,” a resident of Schuld told Germany’s ARD public television after some were allowed to return late Thursday to survey the wreckage.

As the waters rose, patrons at a small hotel in the village of Insul, near Schuld, asked dining room employees if they needed to be worried, Erika Stollenwerk, who works in the kitchen, told ARD television.

She assured them there was nothing to worry about, she said. But 10 minutes later, they had to flee the building.

“We have always had high waters,” Ms. Stollenwerk said. “But like this? It’s a catastrophe.”

In nearby Sinzig, efforts to evacuate a care home for the severely handicapped came only moments before the gushing waters swept through the lower levels, killing 12 of the residents.

By early Friday, such accounts proliferated in the continuing downpour. Gushing muddy waters washed several houses away in a village near Cologne, leaving rescue workers helpless to respond to emergency calls.

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