The worst flooding in decades to affect Germany and parts of Belgium has killed at least 120 people as search and rescue efforts for hundreds of missing continue, officials said.
Late Thursday, authorities said about 1,300 people were still unaccounted for in Germany but cautioned that disrupted roads and telephone service could account for the high figure.
Meanwhile, German officials were quick to say that a warming climate is at least partially to blame for the catastrophic flooding.
In response to news footage showing the massive destruction and desperate families perched on rooftops waiting to be rescued on Friday, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said that "Climate Change has arrived in Germany."
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed shock over the flooding and said that action needed to be taken to prevent future catastrophes.
"Only if we take up the fight against climate change decisively, we will be able to prevent extreme weather conditions such as those we are experiencing," Steinmeier said in an address Friday in Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Washington this week, said that "heavy rain and flooding doesn't quite capture what has happened" in Germany.
"We don't know the death toll yet, but it's going to be high" Merkel said. "Some died in their basements, some as firefighters trying to bring others to safety."
Merkel, on her last U.S. visit as chancellor before a Sept. 26 election to replace her, met Thursday with President Biden at the White House. Climate change was among the items on their agenda.
That meeting took place as regional governments in western Germany battled against the rain-triggered floods to rescue hundreds of people cut off by the raging water.
Nine residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities are among some 60 people dead in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Officials said the situation remains chaotic there and in North-Rhine Westphalia, where the city of Cologne is located, and that electricity and cellphone networks are down.
South of Cologne, a police officer, Patrick Reichelt, told public broadcaster ARD that rescuers were barely able to manage to save children from a school because of the power of the floodwaters.
"The current of the water running past the elementary school is too strong for our motorboats," the officer said. "We just managed to get the kids out, but that was the last trip we'll be making over that way today."
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, who is hoping to replace Merkel as chancellor, called an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday. His handling of the flooding crisis is seen as a test of his leadership.
In the town of Erftstadt, several people died after their houses collapsed due to a massive sinkhole, according to authorities.
"We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night," Frank Rock, the head of the county administration, told broadcaster n-tv. "We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued."
"One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn't manage to escape," he said.
On Thursday, an entire district of the ancient city of Trier was evacuated, including a hospital and its patients, some of whom were just out of surgery.
Some of the worst damage has occurred in the wine region of Ahrweiler, where torrents of floodwater have cut off entire villages. In the town of Schuld, houses collapsed, and dozens of people were missing or unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, in Belgium, the death toll rose to 12, with five people still missing, local authorities and media reports cited by The Associated Press said early Friday.
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