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Dozens killed as severe flooding hits Europe

Up to 70 people are missing in Germany after flash floods swept across western and southern parts of the country, causing buildings to collapse, police said Thursday. Germany is worst hit with 40 people killed, while six people died in Belgium. Luxembourg and the Netherlands are also affected.

“In some areas we have not seen this much rainfall in 100 years,” Andreas Friedrich, a German weather service spokesman, told CNN. He added that “in some areas we’ve seen more than double the amount of rainfall which has caused flooding and unfortunately some building structures to collapse.”

The German regions of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland were worst affected, Friedrich added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on her swansong visit to Washington, DC, said the deadly floods that have hit some parts of her country are a “catastrophe.”

“Here in Washington, my thoughts are also always with the people in our homeland,” Merkel said at a news conference on Thursday ahead of her meeting with President Joe Biden.

“Peaceful places are going through a catastrophe in these hours, one can say a tragedy. Heavy rainfall and floods are very inadequate words to describe this — it is therefore really a catastrophe.”

Merkel said the focus is currently on the rescue and immediate response to those affected by the floods, but added that she was in close contact with her country’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, to work on a strategy for longer-term financial aid to help with recovery.

“I mourn for those who have lost their lives in this catastrophe — we do not yet know these numbers but there will be many,” she added.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert offered condolences to the families of the victims. “I am shocked by the disaster that so many people in the flood areas have to endure. My sympathies go out to the families of the dead and missing,” Seibert wrote on Twitter.

Merkel’s visit is likely her last to the US before stepping down as Chancellor in the fall after 16 years in power.

Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Conservatives’ candidate to succeed Merkel, visited affected parts of the region on Thursday.

“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” Laschett said.

In neighboring Belgium, at least six people died in floods in the southern region of Wallonia, CNN affiliate RTBF reported Thursday, citing the magistrate on duty at the Verviers prosecutor’s office and the governor of the Liège province.

The Wallonia region borders North Rhine-Westphalia. The floods have also disrupted Belgium’s national railway network, Infrabel, stopping services in the French-speaking south of the country, the company said Thursday in a press release.

People ride on a trailer as the Dutch fire brigade evacuate people from their homes in South Limburg.

Italy has begun sending search crews and vehicles to Wallonia, the Italian Civil Protection agency said in a statement.

King Philippe of Belgium visited the town of Chaudfontaine, in the province of Liège, after it was hit by severe flooding.

“We are really touched by the severity of the catastrophe,” Philippe said in an on-camera statement. “Our thoughts go to the victims, their families, and all the people who had to be evacuated in emergency from disaster areas.”

Workers from France’s Civil Protection Agency arrived in the Belgium province of Liege to assist with recovery and rescue efforts.

“Rescuers from the instruction and intervention unit of the (French) Civil Protection carry out the first reconnaissance operations,” the French Civil Protection agency said in a post on Twitter, shortly after their arrival. “They will be joined this evening by firefighters, divers and lifeguards.”

The European Union also activated the civil emergency response mechanism to help areas of Belgium affected by floods, the EU Commission said Thursday in a statement.

“Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany you can count on the EU’s help to face these dramatic floods. My thoughts are with the victims of these tragic events and with all who will have to rebuild what they have lost. I want to thank all rescue teams for their invaluable help and relentless efforts,” EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted Thursday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted an offer of support on Thursday.

“Shocking to see the devastating flooding across Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium,” Johnson tweeted.

“My thoughts are with the families of the victims and all those affected. The UK is ready to provide any support needed in the rescue and recovery effort.”

Moon wobble to bring surge in coastal flooding in 2030s, NASA study predicts

Shipping was also suspended on the River Rhine, one of Germany’s longest and most important arteries of industrial transport, according to NTV news.

Weather service spokesman Friedrich said the downpours were caused by cooler and warmer rainfall mixing. “It came from France at the beginning of the week to Germany and has been sitting over Germany for the last 48 hours,” he said.

“For now we predict the worst of the torrential rainfall is over, though more heavy rain is due in southwestern Germany on the upper reaches of the Rhine, (Thursday) and Friday,” he added.

Nadine Schmidt reported from Berlin, Barbara Wojazer reported from Paris and Sharon Braithwaite and Vasco Cotovio reported in London.

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