Rescue workers start the search for missing people after flooding largely receded from the town of Bad Neuenahr, Germany, on July 15, 2021. File Photo by Constantin Zinn/EPA-EFE
July 15 (UPI) -- Dozens of people have been killed in severe flooding in Western Europe as the region experienced levels of rain not seen in a century.
More than 40 people died in Germany and at least six died in Belgium as flash floods swept through the countries, causing buildings to collapse, CNN reported. The neighboring countries of Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also affected.
"In some areas, we have not seen this much rainfall in 100 years," said Andreas Friedrich, a German Weather Service spokesman.
Friedrich added that some areas have seen "more than double the amount of rainfall which has caused flooding and unfortunately some building structures to collapse."
"I am shocked by the catastrophe that so many people in the flood areas have to suffer," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement. "My condolences go out to the relatives of the dead and missing. I thank the many tireless helpers and emergency services from the bottom of my heart."
Authorities said at least 28 people died in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate and 18 people died in the district of Ahrweiler, The Washington Post reported.
Rhineland-Palatinate's state premier, Malu Dreyer, led the regional parliament in a moment of silence for the victims on Thursday.
Police said as many as 50 people in Germany were trapped on rooftops while at least 70 people are missing.
"We haven't seen a disaster like this. It's just devastating," Dreyer said.
"Countless offers of help reach us," police in Koblenz tweeted.
Police said they would be "on the move" overnight Thursday "to protect against further hazards."
The German Weather Service on Wednesday had issued a warning of extreme precipitation for the western region of the country.
Interior Minister Roger Lewentz said the storms hit the state "with merciless force," causing buildings to collapse and streets to flood.
The defense ministry tweeted that it's deployed hundreds of soldiers to Hagen in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Ahrweiler district.
"Onlookers obstruct the rescue operation in the area Schuld," the ministry tweeted. "Please keep the escape routes free!"
U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking alongside Merkel as she visited the White House Thursday, extended condolences to the victims.
"I want to express to you and to the people of Germany my sincere condolences and the condolence of the American people for the devastating loss of life and the destruction due to the flooding over the past 24 hours in Germany and neighboring countries," he said. "It's a tragedy and our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones."