Berlin — Heavy storms have inundated parts of western Germany, dumping enough rain to turn roads into raging rivers and cutting entire towns off with floodwater. At least 42 people were confirmed dead in Germany and Belgium on Thursday and dozens were still unaccounted for as rescue crews tried to get into flooded areas any way they could.
Police said 18 people died in Ahrweiler county, 15 in Euskirchen, three in Rheinbach and two in Cologne. Belgian media reported four deaths in that country.
Six houses collapsed in the Eifel region and people had to take refuge on the roofs of other buildings nearby. At least five people lost their lives there alone, and several other houses were in danger of collapsing, a police spokesman told CBS News.
A reservoir dam was threatening to burst, putting many more homes at risk.
The number of people officially listed as missing hit almost 70 on Thursday, police said, as German armed forces were called in to help with search and rescue missions across the western half of the country.
Disaster declarations were issued in some counties in the hard-hit states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. Schools and day care centers were forced to close, traffic was paralyzed and electricity and cell phone networks were down in many areas.
A 46-year-old firefighter was among the dead after being swept away by the floodwaters while rescuing a man, police confirmed on Wednesday. Just two hours later, a 52-year-old firefighter collapsed and died during an operation in another area.
Eight deaths were confirmed in the Euskirchen district of North Rhine-Westphalia, the local government said in a Facebook post.
“Communication is largely down, internet and telephone connections are limited in many parts of the district,” the post said, noting that even the emergency phone number was out of service. “Human rescues are taking place. In some cases, there is no access.”
With service halted on a number of lines, Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail network, advised travelers to avoid North Rhine-Westphalia state entirely if possible.
There were four confirmed deaths from flooding in neighboring Belgium. The same storm system dumped enough rain to cause flooding also in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.