Police say at least 30 people are missing after homes were washed away during freak flooding in southwest Germany, according to a local broadcaster.
At least 19 people have died so far across the country as relentless rains have engorged rivers, breaking their banks and flooding homes across several states on Wednesday.
Six houses collapsed in the country’s western state of Rhineland-Palatinate in the most serious single incident, where scores of people are missing.
And about 25 more houses are at risk of collapsing in the worst-affected district of Schuld bei Adenau in the hilly Eiffel region, local broadcaster SWR said, citing police.
The floods have been described as a once-in-25-years event, and have already seen two firemen drown and the army sent in for emergency evacuation of stranded residents.
The deluge of rain has disrupted rail, road and river transport in Germany’s most populous region.
Hagen city in Rhine-Westphalia declared a state of emergency after the Volme river breached its bank.
The crisis team of the city issued an alert warning that the waters would reach levels seen just four times a century in the coming hours, urging those who lived in homes near the river to move to higher ground with immediate effect, public broadcaster WDR reported.
TV images and news photographs from the scene showed dozens of cars floating in the flooded city and a powerful stream of water gushing through the streets.
The German weather service issue an extreme weather warning on Wednesday for three western states and heavy rainstorms are expected to continue through southwestern Germany on Thursday. A continuous downpour is expected until Friday evening.
“We see this kind of situation only in winter ordinarily,” Bernd Mehlig, an environment official from North Rhine-Westphalia, the most affected region, told WDR. “Something like this, with this intensity, is completely unusual in summer.”
Some parts of Hagen have become inaccessible and are isolated due to the high waters. Residents of Duesseldorf, a major business centre, were also asked to evacuate.
Two men, aged 77 and 82, died in their basements after they were flooded in the western cities of Kamen and Wuppertal, the police said.
A dam is threatening to burst in North Rhine-Westphalia as water levels swelled and authorities sounded the alarm to residents whose homes could be affected.
A threat is also emerging from another dam in several villages below the Steinbachtal reservoir and Rhine-Sieg county south of Cologne where evacuations have been ordered.
One of the firemen died after he lost his foothold in the floodwaters and got swept away. A care home in Hagen had to be evacuated while cellars and some hospitals saw flooding.
Four people have died in Ahrweiler county, and about 50 people remained trapped on the roofs of their houses awaiting rescue after water inundated their homes, police in the western city of Koblenz said on Thursday.
Landslides have been reported in some places, disrupting relief work, and major highways lie inundated. In the south and east of the country, many railway services were stopped.
Neighbouring Belgium has been also battered by heavy rains, causing flash floods in which at least two people have died. In Liege, there are fears the Meuse river could break its banks by early afternoon and spill water into the heart of the city.
The Netherlands government rushed some 70 troops to the southern province of Limburg late on Wednesday to carry out evacuation work and use sandbags to plug the banks of a river that was on the brink of bursting.
At least eleven areas of France are under orange alert for floods as of Thursday as the unusual storm dumped heavy rains at the start of the summer season, reported The Local. The equivalent of two months of rain has already fallen on some areas in the last one or two days, according to the French national weather service.
And in Luxembourg, torrential rains led to flash floods in several areas of the country. About 100 road sections are now blocked and the Alzette river burst its banks. Emergency services had responded to 1,200 calls related to the floods as of Thursday morning, reported the Luxembourg Times.
Additional reporting by agencies