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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BRUSSELS — Europe has been battered by days of torrential rain and floods that have left more than 150 people dead and hundreds more missing.
By Saturday, waters were receding across much of the affected regions, but officials feared that more bodies might be found in cars and trucks that were swept away.
Germany has borne the brunt of the extreme weather, with at least 133 people killed in two states.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported that the death toll in Belgium rose to 27 on Saturday.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier planned to travel to Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where a massive rescue effort unfolded on Friday.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were expected to visit the country's most affected regions on Saturday morning.
Many areas were still without electricity and telephone service.
France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have also been hit by flooding, the worst parts of Europe have seen in living memory.
Speaking from Washington, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement that she was "shocked by the catastrophe that so many people in the flood areas have to endure".
"My sympathy goes out to the families of the dead and missing. My heartfelt thanks go to the many tireless helpers and emergency services," she added.
Steinmeier said that fighting climate change was the only way of preventing natural disasters on this scale from happening more often.
Speaking Friday, Steinmeier said he had spoken to regional leaders in the areas of Germany most badly affected by the flooding, and that they had described "harrowing" conditions on the ground.
'Reduced to rubble'
On Thursday, large parts of Germany were completely cut off, with telephone and internet down and authorities warning that the 112 emergency number was "not reachable".
Earlier, dozens of people were reported missing after several homes collapsed in the village of Schuld in the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys.
Many villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses couldn't withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.
The governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament on Thursday that "We have never seen such a disaster. It's really devastating."
European states had already worked together to deal with the crisis with Italy and Austria offering flood rescue teams to Belgium, while the EU's Copernicus emergency satellite mapping is providing assessment maps of the affected areas.
France dispatched a team of 40 rescuers to Belgium on Thursday as well as a search and rescue helicopter and on Friday offered to send soldiers to Germany.
"France is showing solidarity," President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter on Friday. "Our support is already deployed in Belgium. It will be deployed wherever it is useful."
Dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses with inflatable boats and helicopters. Hundreds of soldiers were deployed to assist in the rescue efforts.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
In the Netherlands, soldiers were dispatched to transport evacuees and fill sandbags as rivers burst their banks.
Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said it was unclear whether the extreme rainfall seen in Germany was a direct result of planetary warming.
“But one can state that such events are becoming more frequent due to global warming,” he told The Associated Press, noting that warmer air can absorb more water vapor that eventually falls as rain.
“The increase in heavy rain and decrease in days with weak rain is now also clearly seen in observational data, especially in the mid-northern latitudes, which includes Germany,” Rahmstorf said.
The weakening of the summer circulation of the atmosphere, causing longer-lasting weather patterns such as heatwaves or continuous rain, might also play a role, he added. — Euronews
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