Over 120 people have died after floods swept through northwest Europe following heavy rainfall, devastating communities in Germany and Belgium.
The number of people who have died in the floods in the western part of Germany had risen to more than 100 by Friday afternoon.
More than 1,000 people were missing in the Neuenahr-Ahrweiler region, Koblenz police have reportedly said and entire communities have been completely ruined.
Record rainfall across western Europe saw the floods sweep through towns and villages, leaving people stranded, destroying homes, and washing cars down streets.
The floods have caused Germany's worst loss of life in years and have also hit other countries, including Belgium, where 11 deaths have been reported.
Some 15,000 police, soldiers and emergency service workers have been deployed in Germany to help with the search and rescue.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.
“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”
Hundreds of soldiers used tanks to clear roads of landslides and fallen trees, while helicopters helped winch people to safety.
A harrowing rescue effort unfolded In the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where people were trapped when the ground gave way and their homes collapsed.
“We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,” county administrator Frank Rock told German broadcaster n-tv.
Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive landslide at a gravel pit on the town’s edge..
“One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn’t manage to escape,” Rock said.
Authorities were trying to account for hundreds of people listed as missing, but they cautioned that the high number could be due to duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone service.
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet, who is hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after Germany’s election in September said the disaster had caused immense economic damage to the country’s most densely populated state.
“The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet,” Gov. Armin Laschet said at a news conference. “They lost their houses, farms or businesses.”
Federal and state officials have pledged financial aid to the affect areas, which also includes the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where at least 60 people died and entire villages were destroyed.
Watch: Fears death toll will rise as officials warn dam will burst
The unprecedented rainfall has been blamed on global climate change by both weather experts and local politicians.
After Germany, where more than 100 people have died, Belgium was the hardest hit by the floods that caused homes to be ripped away. Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday that the country’s official confirmed death toll had grown to 20, with 20 other people still missing.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has declared 20 July a national day of mourning.
"We are still waiting for the final toll, but this could be the most catastrophic flooding our country has ever seen," he said.
Dr Liz Stephens, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading, said: "The flooding in Europe is a sobering demonstration of how even the most developed countries are not prepared for the impacts of climate change.
"Intense summer rainfall events are expected to occur more frequently under climate change, and national and local governments need to wake up to the danger and make sure that appropriate measures are taken to avoid the unacceptable number of fatalities that have been reported from this event.
"The floods in London earlier this week provide a warning that we are not immune to these kinds of flood impacts in the UK and should learn our own lessons from this disaster."
As the water started to recede, stunned residents in the worst affected towns inspected what was left of their homes and neighbourhoods.
In the German town of Schuld, houses were reduced to piles of debris and broken beams. Roads were blocked by wreckage and fallen trees and fish flapped and gasped on puddles of water in the middle of the street.
A rescue effort was underway at the end of the week, with the military joining residents in the clean-up operation.
Professor Hannah Cloke OBE, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, added: "The deaths and destruction across Europe as a result of flooding is a tragedy that should have been avoided.
"For so many people to die in floods in Europe in 2021 represents a monumental failure of the system. The sight of people driving or wading through deep floodwater fills me with horror, as this is about the most dangerous thing you can do in a flood.
"Forecasters could see this heavy rain coming and issued alerts early in the week, and yet the warnings were not taken seriously enough and preparations were inadequate.
"These kind of high-energy, sudden summer torrents of rain are exactly what we expect in our rapidly heating climate.
"The fact that other parts of the northern hemisphere are currently suffering record-breaking heatwaves and fires should serve as a reminder of just much more dangerous our weather could become in an ever-warmer world."
Watch: Floodwaters surge through German town as death toll rises