At least 42 dead after flash floods hit western Europe

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday raised the prospect of EU aid to the affected areas. [EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH]

 At least 42 people have died in Western Germany and dozens remained missing on Thursday after unprecedented flooding also hit Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Swollen rivers caused by record rainfall across western Europe swept through towns and villages, leaving cars upended, houses destroyed and people stranded on rooftops.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday raised the prospect of EU aid to the affected areas.

“The EU is ready to help. Affected countries can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism,” she tweeted.

The German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were worst hit.

“We have never seen such a catastrophe before. It is truly devastating,” said Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer.

Estimates of missing people are somewhere between 50 and 70, while the number of displaced people and property damage is yet to be determined, but sure to be high.

“I am shocked by the reports that reach me from the places that are now completely underwater,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is currently visiting US President Joe Biden in Washington.

In Belgium, Residents of Liège, Belgium’s third-largest urban area after Brussels and Antwerp, were ordered to evacuate, while around 10 houses collapsed in Pepinster after the river Vesdre flooded the eastern town and residents were evacuated from more than 1,000 homes.

The rain also caused severe disruption to public transport, with high-speed Thalys train services to Germany cancelled.

Traffic on the river Meuse is also suspended as the major Belgian waterway threatened to breach its banks.

In the Netherlands, there have been no casualties reported, but thousands of people in towns and villages along the Meuse river have been urged to leave their houses quickly.

Flooding rivers damaged many houses in the southern province of Limburg and the city of Maastricht, where several care homes were evacuated.

The Luxembourg government has set aside €50 million to help those across Luxembourg affected by flooding that followed torrential downpours that forced thousands to evacuate their homes, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Thursday.

Heavy rainfall throughout the Grand Duchy caused rivers to burst their banks on Wednesday night and early Thursday. The rushing water damaged homes and businesses, toppled trees that blocked roads and cancelled several train connections.

The floods have revitalised the debate around the impacts of climate change in Germany, which may give the country’s Green party a boost in the polls ahead of September’s election. Others are accusing the Greens of attempting to gain political capital from the disaster.

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