More than 120 people have been killed and hundreds more are missing after catastrophic flooding across Germany and Belgium, which has left several villages cut off and sparked fears that a dam could burst.
Officials have warned communities in both countries “are still in danger” following Thursday’s catastrophe, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel expecting “many” more deaths amid further rainstorm warnings for Friday.
The total number killed in Germany alone has risen to at least 103, according to Reuters news agency, citing officials, with communities across the North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate states affected.
More than 150 litres of rainwater per square metre fell over 24 hours in parts of western Germany, causing rivers to swell and burst their banks.
Among the worst-hit areas is Ahrweiler county, south of Cologne, where several homes collapsed in the village of Schuld and authorities say around 1,300 people are unaccounted for.
In Belgium, 18 deaths have been reported, where authorities have warned people living in the south and east to avoid all travel.
“The waters are rising more and more. It’s scary,” Thierry Bourgeois, 52, said in the Belgian town of Liege.
Footage has shown properties on fire in Liege as floodwater fills the streets.
Entire communities lie in ruins after rivers overflowed and swept through towns and villages – washing away people’s homes and cars, flooding basements and causing widespread devastation – following days of torrential rain.
Thousands of people remain homeless after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by officials.
The search for survivors continues and to help those trapped in houses at risk of collapse.
Around 900 German troops have been deployed to help the rescue and clean-up efforts.
The soldiers have been joined in their efforts by police helicopters, as they work to save people who have been left stranded by the high waters.
Some buildings have been reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn’t withstand the flash floods.
In the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.
Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the Ahr river surge in such a deadly torrent. “It was like madness,” he said.
“It was terrible not to be able to help people. They were waving at us from windows. Houses were collapsing to the left and right of them and in the house between they were waving. We were lucky, we survived,” said Frank Thel, a resident.
Earlier today, the freak floods brought down several houses in Erfstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia and rescuers were struggling to help families who had returned to their homes despite the warnings, Cologne district government officials said on Facebook.
Authorities in Rhine-Sieg county, south of Cologne, ordered the evacuation of several villages below the Steinbach reservoir amid fears the dam there could break.
One dam close to the Belgium border, the Rurtalsperre, was flooded overnight while another, the Steinbachtalsperre, has been stabilised.
The deluge of rain and flooding has disrupted rail, road and river transport, with shipping suspended on the Rhine river.
The full extent of the damage in the regions affected remains unclear as many remote areas remain cut off by floodwater and landslides that have made roads impassable, hampering rescue operations.
Some 114,000 properties in western Germany and 20,000 in the southern Belgium are without power.
Mobile phone networks and internet connections are also down in flood-stricken regions, leaving family and friends unable to contact their loved ones.
Asked if the extreme weather in mainland Europe and global warming were linked, Myles Allen, Professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the UN’s report on climate change, told Sky News: “A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, so precisely this kind of very intense summer rainfall event is exactly the kind of extreme event that we’d expect to be becoming already more frequent under climate change.
“So yes, I think we are seeing the weather dice being loaded in favour of this kind of event. As the world becomes warmer these weather events become more likely…The sooner we stop the warming, the better.
“We could stop this warming, we could turn it around within a generation if we wanted to, but emissions are still going up. So people are making lots of good promises, but what we are not seeing is that is followed up with action.”