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Flood Deaths Are Rising In Germany, And Officials Blame Climate Change

Photos released by the Cologne district authority on Friday, and taken by the Rhein-Erft-Kreis district, show an entire section of a field having collapsed.
Photos released by the Cologne district authority on Friday, and taken by the Rhein-Erft-Kreis district, show an entire section of a field having collapsed.

The worst flooding in decades to affect Germany and parts of Belgium has killed at least 120 people as search and rescue efforts for hundreds of missing continue, officials said.

Late Thursday, authorities said about 1,300 people were still unaccounted for in Germany but cautioned that disrupted roads and telephone service could account for the high figure.

Meanwhile, German officials were quick to say that a warming climate is at least partially to blame for the catastrophic flooding.

An elderly man stands amidst the rubble in a devastated street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.
Christof Stache / AFP via Getty Images
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A man stands amid rubble Friday after floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.

In response to news footage showing the massive destruction and desperate families perched on rooftops waiting to be rescued on Friday, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said that "Climate Change has arrived in Germany."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed shock over the flooding and said that action needed to be taken to prevent future catastrophes.

"Only if we take up the fight against climate change decisively, we will be able to prevent extreme weather conditions such as those we are experiencing," Steinmeier said in an address Friday in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Washington this week, said that "heavy rain and flooding doesn't quite capture what has happened" in Germany.

Cars are covered in Hagen, Germany, on Thursday, with the debris brought by the flooding of a nearby river the night before.
Martin Meissner / AP
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Cars are covered with debris brought on by flooding from a nearby river on Thursday in Hagen, Germany.

"We don't know the death toll yet, but it's going to be high" Merkel said. "Some died in their basements, some as firefighters trying to bring others to safety."

Merkel, on her last U.S. visit as chancellor before a Sept. 26 election to replace her, met Thursday with President Biden at the White House. Climate change was among the items on their agenda.

That meeting took place as regional governments in western Germany battled against the rain-triggered floods to rescue hundreds of people cut off by the raging water.

Nine residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities are among some 60 people dead in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Officials said the situation remains chaotic there and in North-Rhine Westphalia, where the city of Cologne is located, and that electricity and cellphone networks are down.

A woman tries to move in a flooded street following heavy rains in Liege, Belgium, on Thursday.
Bruno Fahy / Belga/AFP via Getty Images
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A woman tries to move in a flooded street following heavy rains Thursday in Liège, Belgium.

South of Cologne, a police officer, Patrick Reichelt, told public broadcaster ARD that rescuers were barely able to manage to save children from a school because of the power of the floodwaters.

"The current of the water running past the elementary school is too strong for our motorboats," the officer said. "We just managed to get the kids out, but that was the last trip we'll be making over that way today."

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, who is hoping to replace Merkel as chancellor, called an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday. His handling of the flooding crisis is seen as a test of his leadership.

In the town of Erftstadt, several people died after their houses collapsed due to a massive sinkhole, according to authorities.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, Kordel a regional train is stuck in flood waters at the local station. The power went out and the train came to a halt on Wednesday July 14, 2021.
Sebastian Schmitt / Picture Alliance/Getty Images
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A regional train is stuck in floodwaters at a station in Kordel, Germany. Power went out, and the train came to a halt on Wednesday.

"We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night," Frank Rock, the head of the county administration, told broadcaster n-tv. "We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued."

"One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn't manage to escape," he said.

On Thursday, an entire district of the ancient city of Trier was evacuated, including a hospital and its patients, some of whom were just out of surgery.

Some of the worst damage has occurred in the wine region of Ahrweiler, where torrents of floodwater have cut off entire villages. In the town of Schuld, houses collapsed, and dozens of people were missing or unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the death toll rose to 12, with five people still missing, local authorities and media reports cited by The Associated Press said early Friday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A man helps a woman to climb out of a window following floods in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, Western Germany, on July 15, 2021.
Bernd Lauter / AFP via Getty Images
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A man helps a woman climb out of a window Thursday following floods in Schuld, Germany.
Destroyed houses are seen close to the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, on Thursday.
Michael Probst / AP
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Houses are left destroyed close to the Ahr River in Schuld on Thursday.
People look at a destroyed railway crossing and damages caused by the floods of the Volme river on Thursday in Priorei near Hagen, western Germany.
Sascha Schuermann / AFP via Getty Images
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People check out a destroyed railway crossing and other damage caused by flooding from the Volme River on Thursday in Priorei, Germany, near Hagen.
A destroyed bridge leads over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, in a photo taken on Thursday after the Ahr river dramatically breached its banks amid heavy rainfall.
Michael Probst / AP
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A bridge is destroyed over the Ahr River in Schuld on Thursday after flooding due to heavy rainfall.
Cars are piled up by the water at a roundabout in the Belgian city of Verviers on Thursday after heavy rains and floods lashed Western Europe.
François Walschaerts / AFP via Getty Images
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Cars are piled up by the water at a roundabout Thursday in Verviers, Belgium, after heavy rains and floods lashed Western Europe.
Two men try to secure goods from next to the debris of houses destroyed by the floods in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr in western Germany on Thursday.
Bernd Lauter / AFP via Getty Images
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Two men try to secure goods near houses destroyed by floods Thursday in Schuld.
People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, on Thursday.
Valentin Bianchi / AP
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People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding Thursday in Liège, Belgium.
Debris in front of a house in the village in the district of Ahrweiler after the storm and the floods on July 15, 2021 in Rhineland Palatinate, Schuld.
Christoph Reichwein / Picture Alliance/Getty Images
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Debris lies in front of a house Thursday in Schuld in western Germany.