Death toll rises to 11 in German floods, dozens missing

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BERLIN (REUTERS) – At least 11 people have died and dozens were reported missing on Thursday (July 14) as record rainfall in western Germany caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away homes and inundated cellars

BERLIN (REUTERS) – At least 11 people have died and dozens were reported missing on Thursday (July 14) as record rainfall in western Germany caused rivers to burst their banks, swept away homes and inundated cellars.

Police said on Thursday that four people were dead and 70 missing around the wine-growing hub of Ahrweiler, south of Bonn, after the Ahr River, which flows into the Rhine, burst its banks, bringing down the houses. Around 50 were stranded on roofs, and more houses were at risk of collapse.

One local man fled to safety after a flood warning was issued at 2am local time. 

“I’ve never experienced a catastrophe where the river burst its banks in such a short space of time,” the 63-year-old man, whose name was not given, told SWR television.

To the north, in North Rhine-Westphalia, two people were found dead in flooded cellars in Cologne, with further deaths in Solingen, Unna and Rheinbach, police said.

Video footage from nearby Bad Neuenahr 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 flood waters receded on Thursday morning.

There are many places where fire brigades and rescue workers have been deployed. We don’t yet have a very precise picture because rescue measures are continuing,” a police spokesman said.

Premier Malu Dreyer of Rhineland-Palatinate, home to Ahrweiler, said the region had been hard hit by the flooding.

“It’s a catastrophe! There are dead, missing and many people still in danger. All of our emergency services are in action round the clock and risking their own lives,” said Ms Dreyer. “I extend my sympathies to the victims of this flood catastrophe.”

Ms Dreyer said she would visit the scene of the flooding on Thursday and, in a statement, described some of the dangerous rescue operations. One police helicopter was deployed late on Wednesday to winch people to safety.

Two firefighters died in the Sauerland region, north-east of Bonn, on Wednesday, police said. The news agency DPA said one had drowned and a second had collapsed after a rescue operation.

In Wuppertal, known for its overhead railway, locals said their cellars had been flooded and power cut off. “I can’t even guess at how much the damage will be,” said Karl-Heinz Sammann, owner of the Kitchen Club discotheque.

State Premier Armin Laschet, who is the conservative candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel at a general election in September, was due on Thursday morning to visit the town of Hagen, which has also been hit by flooding.

A damaged road and a car after flooding in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, on July 15, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Rail and road transport was disrupted, and shipping on the Rhine, an important trade artery, was suspended.

Weather experts said that rains in the region over the past 24 hours had been unprecedented, as a near-stationary low-pressure weather system caused sustained local precipitation also to the west in France and the Netherlands.

Rainwater draining into the Rhine, where shipping traffic was partly suspended, were expected to test flood defences along the river, including in Cologne, on the lower Rhine, and Koblenz, when the Rhine and Moselle meet.

More heavy rain was due in south-western Germany, on the upper reaches of the German Rhine, on Thursday and Friday, the German Weather Service said.

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