‘Where did this rain come from?’ Germany in shock after deadly flooding

Residents in parts of Germany hit by extreme weather are dealing with major flooding that's killed at least 59 people and left dozens missing in one of the country's worst weather disasters yet.

'Where did this rain come from?' Germany in shock after deadly flooding
Residents in the village of Schuld, Ahrweiler, on Thursday after the devastating storm hit. At least six houses were destroyed by the floods Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

The scale of the catastrophe began to unfold throughout the day as the death toll rose. Police on Thursday night said at least 59 people had died and more were missing. 

Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as helicopters circled above to rescue them from the rising waters.

The states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) were worst hit by the heavy rainstorms which have caused rivers to burst their banks and threatened to bring down further homes.

LATEST: Floods leave several dead and many missing in western Germany

Pensioner Annemarie Müller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen, Rhineland-Palatinate, had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Nobody was expecting this, where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down.”

NRW state leader Armin Laschet cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to visit the scene in his state, Germany’s most populous.

“The situation is alarming,” Laschet told German daily Bild at one of the crisis areas,  “People are still missing.

“I’ve talked to many residents who’ve lost everything virtually overnight.”

The flooding affected several towns including Bad Münstereifel in NRW. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/B&S 

Laschet promised “quick help” to those who needed it, saying that Germany “will do everything” to support people.

“We will stand by the towns and people who’ve been affected,” Laschet, wearing rubber boots and a white shirt, told reporters in the town of Hagen.

IN PICTURES: Torrential rain leaves trail of destruction across western Germany

Andreas Friedrich, of the German Weather Service said some areas hadn’t seen this much rainfall “in 100 years”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a visit to Washington, said she was “shocked” by the humanitarian “disaster”, calling it a “tragedy” for the nation.

She vowed that the government would do “everything in its power to, under the most difficult circumstances, save lives, prevent danger and ease suffering”. 

“We have never seen such a catastrophe, it is truly devastating,” Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer said in a parliament session. 

“There are dead, there are missing, there are many who are still in danger,” Dreyer said solemnly. “It’s really devastating.” Entire towns are flooded, she said, adding that houses “floated away”.

She said police helicopters were out trying to rescue people. Families have been struggling to reach people because many of the mobile phone networks are down.

Which areas are worst affected?

This situation is still developing but here’s what we know so far.  In North Rhine-Westphalia at least 31 people have died, while neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate said nine more deaths were likely in addition to 19 recovered in the region around the western town of Ahrweiler alone, after the river Ahr burst its banks. 

The small Eifel village of Schuld was hit hard. The village with about 700 inhabitants lies close to the state border with NRW. Floods swept away six houses there. Four people are reported to have died in Schuld. 

A dramatic rescue operation got underway on Wednesday night as dozens of people scrambled to try and reach safety on their roof. More houses are at risk of collapse, authorities said Thursday. 

In the Eifel district of Bitburg-Prüm, several people got trapped in their homes by the deluge of water. There have been no reports of deaths, injuries or missing people so far. A district spokesman reported at least one collapsed house.

In the district of Euskirchen in the south of North Rhine-Westphalia, at least 15 died in the severe storm, according to initial reports. In several places, the situation was still critical on Thursday afternoon. “People are being rescued,” the district administration reported.

In some areas, there is no access to villages and communication is largely down.

Some areas, including Bad Münstereifel have been devastated by the extreme rainfall.

There is also severe flooding in other parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, particularly Solingen and Hagen. Parts of Saarland are also affected. 

Police said two firefighters died on duty – one in Sauerland, north of Bonn, while another firefighter died in NRW.

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Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

Parts of Germany were once again pummelled by heavy thunderstorms on Monday - just days after the city of Paderborn was struck by a devastating tornado.

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

A severe weather warning was issued on Sunday by the German Weather Service (DWD), who cautioned residents in western and southwestern regions of the country that fierce gusts of wind, hailstones and heavy rain could once again be on the horizon.

A  second tornado could “not be ruled out” in the southwestern regions of the country, DWD warned. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, were struck by heavy rain and hailstorms and strong gusts of wind throughout the afternoon.

However, the worst of the thunder and hailstorms warnings were for the state of Baden-Württemberg. 

Here, DWD issued a Stage 3 weather warning – the second highest possible. Severe thunderstorms with gale-force winds at speeds of up to 110km per hour were forecast, with up to 50 litres of rain per square metre falling in a short space of time.

According to the meteorologists, the storms are expected sweep across to the eastern regions of the country and ease off in the evening.

The storms and severe weather warnings came days after the city of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a devastating tornado.

According to the local fire brigade, 43 people were injured in the storm, with 13 of them needing to be hospitalised and one person reportedly fighting for their life. 

Railway services were cancelled across many parts of the west over the weekend, but resumed again on Monday.

Air travel in some parts of the country was also affected, with Frankfurt Airport in the central state of Hesse saying there was disruption to flights on Friday. 

Videos posted on social media depicted the strongest part of the tornado tearing through the city, ripping trees up by their roots.

The damage to infrastructure and buildings caused by the storm is estimated to be in the millions.

Schools remain closed

As of Monday, several schools and nurseries remained closed in both Paderborn and nearby Lippstadt due to fears that the buildings couldn’t be safely entered.

In the small town of Lippstadt alone, five nurseries and seven schools were closed for repairs on Monday, with administrators unable to say when they would reopen their doors.

“Given the extent of the damage we see at the various locations, it is currently unthinkable that classes can be held there in the next few days,” said Mayor Arne Moritz (CDU).

In Paderborn, meanwhile, drones were exploring five closed school buildings to check whether there was a risk of damaged roofs imploding. The streets where the schools are located have been closed off to the public and the police are believed to be patrolling outside to stop anyone entering.

READ ALSO: Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Damaged roof in Paderborn

A damaged roof in the aftermath of the Paderborn storms. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

More frequent tornadoes? 

Tornadoes aren’t infrequent in Central Europe, but recently appear to be gaining in frequency and intensity, which experts suggest could be a result of climate change. 

In June 2021, a deadly tornado swept through several villages in the Czech Republic near the Slovakian and Austrian borders, killing six people and injuring a further 200. 

At time, climatologists pointed out that until 2020, the Czech Republic only saw a handful of tornadoes each year – and most of them were relatively mild.

Speaking to WDR on Sunday, climate researcher Dr. Mojib Latif drew a direct parallel between warmer temperatures and more violent and regular storms.  

“In Germany there are approximately between 20 and 40 tornadoes per year,” he told the regional media outlet. “We have to reckon with that. As the climate gets warmer and thunderstorms become more violent, the frequency of tornadoes will also increase.”

However, some experts have been more cautious about drawing a direct link.

“That simply cannot be determined at the moment,” meteorologist Jürgen Schmidt told RND. 

Schmidt thinks the perception that tornadoes have increased in recent years could have a slightly more prosaic explanation.

The fact that people are able to record them on their smartphones and share these images more widely could contribute to this impression, he said. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard