ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the floodwaters which have devastated Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands
Recent storms across parts of western Europe made rivers and reservoirs burst their banks, triggering flash floods overnight after the saturated soil couldn’t absorb any more water.
Authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia state said at least 30 people had died, while 28 deaths were reported in Rhineland-Palatinate state to the south. Belgian media reported eight deaths in that country.
Dozens of people have been reported missing after several houses collapsed overnight in the German village of Schuld in the Eifel.
Aerial footage shows the extent of the flood damage
Dozens more were trapped on the roofs of their houses, awaiting rescue.
Authorities are using inflatable boats and helicopters to try and reach those in need, while more than 200 soldiers from the German army have been deployed to assist the rescue effort.
On a visit to Washington, Ms Merkel said the “disaster” had left her "distraught", adding “heavy rain and flooding doesn’t capture what happened”. “I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” she said. “We still don’t know the number. But it will be many.” Ms Merkel expressed her condolences to those who had lost loved ones.
Kate Martyr, a journalist for DW News, reports on the devastation she has seen in Walporzheim in south-west Germany
"We can tell the relatives that everything is being done to find those who are missing,” she said.
"My sympathy goes to the relatives and of the dead and missing."
Meanwhile, police have appealed for "gawkers" to stay away from flooded areas to avoid disruption to access and rescue routes.
“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.”
Many of the dead were only discovered after floodwaters began to recede again.
Across the border in Belgium, the Vesdre river broke its banks and sent masses of water churning through the streets of Pepinster, close to Liege, its destructive power bringing down some buildings.
Rescue operations in both countries have been hampered by the fact that phone and internet connections were down in parts of the region.
Police in the western German city of Koblenz said 18 people had died in Ahrweiler county, and about 50 were trapped on the roofs of their houses awaiting rescue.
Six houses collapsed overnight in the village of Schuld, with police warning: "Many people have been reported missing to us".
Authorities have declared an emergency in the region after days of heavy rain.
Police said an 82-year-old man died after a fall in his flooded basement in the western city of Wuppertal, which was among the hardest-hit.
A firefighter drowned on Wednesday during rescue work in the western town of Altena, and another man is missing in the eastern town of Joehstadt after trying to secure his property from rising waters, authorities said.
Torrents of flood water overwhelm towns and villages in Germany
Relentless rain through the night worsened the flooding conditions in eastern Belgium.
Some towns saw water levels rise to unprecedented levels and saw their centres turned into gushing rivers.
Major roads were inundated and in the south and east of the nation, the railway service said all traffic was stopped, adding that “alternative transport is highly unlikely”.
Overnight flooding has caused devastation with cars overturned and dumped downstream
In eastern Eupen, on the German border, one man was reported dead after he was swept away by a torrent, a local governor told RTBf network.
In Liege, the Meuse river could break its banks by early afternoon and spill into the heart of the city. Police warned residents to take precautionary measures.
Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Valkenburg, close to the German and Belgian borders, evacuated a care home and hospice overnight amid flooding that turned the tourist town’s main street into a river, Dutch media reported.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to help those affected.
"My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and those who have lost their homes," she tweeted.
"The EU is ready to help."
Greta Thunberg, the climate activist, tweeted that the extreme weather of recent days should not be regarded as "the new normal."
"We’re at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent," she said on Twitter.