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Floodwaters still rising in western Europe with death toll over 120

Floodwaters still rising in western Europe with death toll over 120
July 17, 2021

SCHULD/ERFTSTADT (Reuters) - German officials feared more deaths after "catastrophic" floods swept through western regions, demolishing streets and houses, killing more than 100 people and leaving hundreds more missing and homeless.

Communications were cut in many areas and entire communities lay in ruins after swollen rivers tore through towns and villages in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

After days of heavy rain, 103 people have died in Germany alone, the largest number killed in a natural disaster in the country in almost 60 years. They included 12 residents of a home for disabled people surprised by the floods during the night.

In Belgium, which has declared a day of mourning on Tuesday, officials said there were at least 20 dead and another 20 missing.

The flooding was a "catastrophe of historic dimensions," said Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel when she steps down after an election in September.

The devastation of the floods, attributed by meteorologists to a climate-change driven shift in the jet stream that has brought inland water that once stayed at sea, could shake up an election that has until now seen little discussion of climate.

"It is a sad certainty that such extreme events will determine our day-to-day life more and more frequently in the future," Laschet said, adding that more measures were needed to fight global warming.

Merkel held a video conference with Laschet who updated her on search and rescue efforts, a government spokeswoman said, adding that the chancellor plans to visit the affected areas soon. German public broadcaster ARD said Merkel will visit Schuld, one of the worse-hit towns, on Sunday.

Proposals by the Greens, running a distant second in polls to Merkel's conservatives, to introduce motorway speed limits to cut carbon emissions had previously drawn outrage.

Days after the European Commission unveiled plans to make Europe the "first climate-neutral continent, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the scale and intensity of the flooding was a clear indication of climate change and demonstrated the urgent need to act.

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