At least 1300 people remain unaccounted for in western Europe after the heaviest rainfall in a century caused deadly flash floods.
The death toll from flooding in western Europe has risen to at least 67 and at least 1300 people remain missing.
The deluge was triggered by torrential rain, with homes and cars swept away in Germany and parts of Belgium.
In Germany at least 49 people have been killed in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.
“In some areas we have not seen this much rainfall in 100 years,” German weather service spokesman, Andreas Friedrich, told CNN, adding 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”.
Malu Dreyer, premier of Rhineland-Palatinate state, called the situation a “catastrophe”.
The Ahr River has burst its banks and swept away homes, with people sheltered on their rooftops.
The southern Dutch province of Limburg has also reported widespread damage with rising waters.
Dutch safety workers have evacuated hundreds of homes in the southern town of Roermond.
Officials also closed off several roads including the busy A2 highway, while fears remained that water from heavy rains in Germany and Belgium would push up river levels as it reached the Netherlands.
The Luxembourg government set up a crisis cell to respond to emergencies triggered by heavy rains overnight as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel reported “several homes” had been flooded and were “no longer inhabitable”.
Forecasters expect France will be hit hard today.
Residents of the German town of Mayen stood stunned and helpless as the worst flooding in years submerged their homes and sent torrents flowing down the streets.
“Nobody was expecting this — where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” said pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking over her flooded garden and garage from her balcony.
“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down,” she said.
The small town is some 40 kilometres south of Ahrweiler in the volcanic Eifel region, the hardest-hit district in severe storms that have killed at least 42 people in Germany since late Wednesday.
The small Nette river that runs through the quaint town has burst its banks and residents spent much of Wednesday night awake, trying to keep the water at bay.
Many were pumping their basements and surveying the damage on Thursday, with no clear idea of when the water might recede enough to start the clean-up.
Even the local fire station was pumping its own basement, with exhausted firefighters sitting nearby, while others were busy clearing away uprooted trees.
‘Nothing we could do’
Though locals were grateful they had not been as badly hit as other regions, where people have died and houses were washed away, they were still under shock.
“We already had extreme floods in 2016, but these have been much worse,” said Uli Walsdorf, deputy head of the Mayen fire service.
“We were prepared, we had built up defences. But you can never be 100 per cent prepared for events like this,” he said.
“We sat on the balcony and watched as the Nette overflowed. There was nothing more we could do,” pensioner Mueller said, describing how friends had come to help her rescue electrical appliances from the cellar in the night.
Andrea Schaer, 55, who lives nearby on the second floor of an apartment block, said residents in her building had clubbed together until 2am to “save” the apartment on the ground floor.
“We were lucky, the cellar is completely full and the water came up to four centimetres (1.6 inches) above the ground floor. It happened quickly, in 20 minutes the whole cellar was full, so I was a bit scared,” she said.
Local teacher Ortrud Meyer, 36, was waiting outside her home for an electrician after borrowing a pump to clear water from her flooded cellar.
The fire service wouldn’t be arriving for several hours as they had more urgent business to attend to, she said.
“We are aware of the danger, but we have never seen anything like this,” said Meyer, who has lived in Mayen for six years and does not keep valuables in her cellar.
“My father-in-law is almost 80, he’s from Mayen and says he’s never experienced anything like this,”
Authorities in the Belgian city of Liege on Thursday urged residents to evacuate neighbourhoods on the Meuse river as several days of heavy rains threatened historic flooding.
The city authorities “ask the inhabitants of Liege who still have the possibility to evacuate to do so,” a statement said, adding that waters could rise another 1.5 metres (five feet) in the coming hours from their current levels.
“If evacuation is no longer possible, citizens are advised to go upstairs and not to take any risks,” the statement added.
“The crisis situation is exceptional and solidarity must prevail,” they said. The Meuse, or Maas in Dutch, is one of northwestern Europe’s major waterways with streams and tributaries flowing down from much of southern Belgium, including the hilly Ardennes region.
These rivers, in particular the Ourthe and the Vesdre, have seen their flow increase enormously with the torrential rains of recent days.
Liege, with a population of around 200,000, is the fourth most populous city in Belgium and is just 40 kilometres from Germany, where the floods have killed at least 42 people.
“The flooding is going to be very dangerous in Liege itself,” the president of the Walloon region. Elio Di Rupo, told the regional parliament on Thursday.
The towns bordering these rivers in the regions of Liege and Verviers have been under water since Wednesday, notably Theux, Pepinster and the spa town of Spa.
According to the Belgian media, at least six people died in the country as a result of the floods, including four in the eastern district of Verviers alone. Thousands of people may have to be relocated.
1300 missing as Europe floods