Race to rescue missing hundreds as death toll from European floods rises to 125

Teams are still searching for those missing due to the floods, ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports.

Rescue workers across Germany and Belgium have rushed to prevent more fatalities from Europe's worst flooding in years as the death toll rose to more than 125.

Fueled by days of heavy rain, the floodwaters also left thousands of Germans homeless after their dwellings were destroyed or deemed to be at risk, and elected officials began to worry about the lingering economic effects from lost homes and businesses.

Elsewhere on the continent, dikes on swollen rivers were at risk of collapsing, and crews raced to reinforce flood barriers.

63 people died in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River, authorities said.

The destruction in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, Germany Credit: AP

In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state, the number of dead stood at 43, but officials warned that it could increase.

Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported at least 12 dead in the country.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.

“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

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“It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”

During a visit to Washington on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock at the scope of the flooding and said she "grieved" for "those who have lost their lives in this disaster".

She pledged everything would be done to find those still missing, adding: “’Heavy rain and flooding’ doesn’t capture what happened.”

Rescuers were rushing on Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne.

A stream of floodwater rushes through a street in Pepinster, in the province of Liège in Belgium

Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.

“We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,” said Frank Rock, the head of the county administration.

“We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued.”

A hotel owner in Germany points out the damage caused to his business

One hotel owner in Germany said his business was "completely destroyed".

"At least our family is okay - that's the important thing," he added.

Among the worst-hit German villages was Schuld, where several homes collapsed and dozens of people remained unaccounted for.

Rescue operations were hampered by blocked roads and phone and internet outages across the Eifel, a volcanic region of rolling hills and small valleys.

Debris of collapsed houses in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, Germany. Credit: AP

Some villages were reduced to rubble as old brick and timber houses could not withstand the sudden rush of water, often carrying trees and other debris as it gushed through narrow streets.

Karl-Heinz Grimm, who had come to help his parents in Schuld, said he had never seen the small Ahr River surge in such a deadly torrent.

“This night, it was like madness,” he said.

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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.”

Rescuers were rushing on Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne in Germany, where several houses were at risk of collapse after floodwaters laid bare the foundations.

The river Ahr passes the village of Schuld, Germany. Credit: AP

Three people were rescued from the Wurm River in Heinsberg county late on Thursday.

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Armin Laschet, called an emergency Cabinet meeting on Friday.

The 60-year-old’s handling of the flood disaster is widely seen as a test for his ambitions to succeed Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s national election on September 26.

The German army has deployed 900 soldiers to help with the rescue and clear-up efforts.

Thousands of people remain homeless after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities, including several villages around the Steinbach reservoir that experts say could collapse under the weight of the floods.

Across the border in Belgium, most of the drowned were found around Liege, where the rains hit hardest.

Skies were largely overcast in eastern Belgium, with hopes rising that the worst of the calamity was over.