Several missing and many stranded after houses collapse in German floods

Heavy rain and once-in-a-generation floods has caused the collapse of six houses in Germany’s western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, leaving several people missing and many stranded on rooftops.

Earlier reports by broadcaster SWR said around 30 people were missing and about 25 more homes were at risk of collapse in the district of Schuld bei Adenau, in the hilly Eiffel region, citing police.

“We currently have an unclear number of people on roofs who need to be rescued,” a spokesperson for the Koblenz police told Reuters.

“There are many places where fire brigades and rescue workers have been deployed. We do not yet have a very precise picture because rescue measures are continuing,” the spokesperson added.

Two firemen drowned and the army was deployed to help stranded residents on Wednesday, after a slow-moving low-pressure weather system caused once-in-a-generation floods.

A truck drives through a flooded street in Hagen, western Germany.
A truck drives through a flooded street in Hagen, western Germany. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Rail, road and river transport has been disrupted in the country’s most populous region.

The German weather service issued an extreme weather warning on Wednesday for parts of three western states, while Hagen, a city of 180,000, declared a state of emergency after the Volme river burst its banks.

With Germans voting in September to choose a successor to the chancellor, Angela Merkel, the extreme weather could heighten awareness of global heating, a topic with which the Greens, running second to Merkel’s conservatives, have so far failed to dominate the agenda.

Hagen’s crisis team said that water would reach levels seen not more than four times a century in coming hours and warned everyone who lived near the town’s rivers to move to higher ground immediately, public broadcaster WDR reported.

“We see this kind of situation only in winter ordinarily,” Bernd Mehlig, an environment official from North Rhine-Westphalia, the most affected region, told WDR. “Something like this, with this intensity, is completely unusual in summer.“

a woman with an umbrella walks along A flooded street in Hagen on 14 July.
A flooded street in Hagen on 14 July. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Parts of Hagen were described as being isolated by high waters and all but inaccessible. Soldiers had to be sent to clear some areas of the city. Residents were also told to leave one district of regional capital Düesseldorf.

One care home in Hagen had to be evacuated, while across the region firefighters were busy pumping water out of hundreds of cellars. In one hospital, flood waters caused lifts to fail.

The firefighter died when he lost his footing in flood waters and was swept away, authorities told WDR. Two men, aged 53 and 81, were missing elsewhere in the region.

Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the conservatives’ candidate to succeed Merkel, was due to visit the region on Thursday.