(LONDON) — Europe’s death toll from catastrophic flooding rose to at least 199 on Monday with hard-hit west Germany and Belgium reeling from the devastation.
Nearly 300 people remain unaccounted for in Germany and Belgium, officials said.
There are at least 163 dead in Germany, according to authorities. The hardest-hit areas in Germany are Rhineland-Palatinate, where 117 have been killed in the flooding and in North Rhine-Westphalia, where at least 46 people died and 138 remain unaccounted for, the Koblenz Police and the German Ministry of Interior said.
In Belgium, at least 36 are dead and 160 others remain unaccounted, according to the Belgian prime minister’s office.
Western countries in Europe have been hit with days of record rainfall that caused rivers to burst banks and triggered deadly flooding throughout Germany and Belgium and southern parts of the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Horrific images showed entire communities, some with buildings dating back to Medieval times, inundated with water, collapsed edifices and rescue workers combing through the wreckage.
The waters started to recede in some parts of Western Europe as of Saturday and efforts were launched to clean up the leftover debris and potentially discover more bodies.
Residents in many flooded areas were still grappling without electricity or telephone service on Monday.
“It’s madness,” said a resident in the hard-hit district of Ahrweiler in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, as search-and-rescue crews rappelled from helicopters to reach people stranded in their homes.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported that some 17,150 houses in Belgium were without power over the weekend and roughly 30,000 households did not have access to drinking water. About 3,500 homes had no gas and officials warned that a shortage of emergency supplies may last for several weeks.
Officials said 85% of the homes inspected in the Liege region of Belgium are at risk of collapsing.
As the water receded in some parts of Germany, an ABC News crew was able to reach Ahrweiler, which had been cut off by flooding and where numerous homes dating back to the 16th century were damaged.
A large, concrete bridge leading into the Ahrweiler was destroyed by the flooding and some homes along the Ahr River were split in half. Uprooted trees littered the river.
Surrounded by medieval fortress walls, residents in the town were out over the weekend shoveling thick mud off of cobblestone street. Residents pointed out a water line that was well over six feet tall.
One man in Ahrweiler told ABC News he saved his elderly mother from the floodwaters. He said the water rose so quickly he sought refuge on the roof of his home where he watched as the flood carried cars down the street.
The severe weather triggered widespread evacuations. Some 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg after the breach of a dike on the Run River. Thousands of residents in several Dutch towns evacuated Thursday and Friday were allowed to return home over the weekend morning unsure of what they would find.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled over the weekend to Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne.
Caretaker Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte visited impacted towns Friday and said the region had been through “three disasters.”
“First, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery,” he said. “It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
German and Belgian officials said rescue and recovery efforts are now underway and crews are working to shore up dikes and protect roads.
In Germany, more than 19,000 emergency forces are conducting rescue operations in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, according to the regional government. In the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, police said they received reports of 618 people injured, DPA reported.
Speaking alongside President Joe Biden on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock over the scope of devastation from the flooding.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” Merkel said during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. “I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days.”
Merkel returned to Germany over the weekend and visited the hard-hit town of Schuld in the Rhineland-Palatinate region. She described the devastation as “surreal” and “terrifying” and pledged quick financial aid.
“Germany is a strong country,” Merkel told officials in Schuld. “We will stand up to this force of nature, in the short term, but also in the medium and long term.”
ABC News’ Morgan Winsor contributed to this report
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.