Germany's worst rainfall in a century leaves dozens dead and hundreds missing, authorities say

By Nadine Schmidt, Schams Elwazer, Barbara Wojazer and Sharon Braithwaite, CNN

    (CNN) -- Catastrophic flooding in Germany has killed at least 93 people, with hundreds more missing, authorities said Friday, as large-scale rescue efforts continue amidst rising water, landslides and power outages.

Shocking images of the devastation show entire villages underwater, with cars wedged in between collapsed buildings and debris.

In the hard-hit district of Ahrweiler, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the death toll could rise further, authorities told CNN Friday.

"There is no end in sight just yet," Ulrich Sopart, a police spokesman in the city of Koblenz, told CNN. There are currently 1,300 people unaccounted for in Ahrweiler, he said, adding that authorities are hopeful that they will be able to revise down that number as the rescue operation continues and phone lines are restored.

''Our hopes are that some people might have been registered as missing twice or even three times -- if for example a family member, a work colleague or a friend has registered a person as missing," Sopart said.

''Also, [in] some places phone lines are still down and reception is difficult. We do hope that people will get in touch with a relative, work colleague or friend to let them know they are fine," he said.

At least 165,000 people are currently without power in Rhineland-Palatinate and the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia, authorities told CNN.

The death toll in the two states currently stands at 50 and 43 respectively. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the state's Interior Ministry spokeswoman Katja Heins told CNN: ''The situation remains very dynamic - we do not know how many people are unaccounted for."

Extreme rainfall totals were observed Wednesday into Thursday morning across much of western Germany as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland have been the worst affected by what authorities have called the heaviest rainfall in a century.

''In some areas we have not seen as much rainfall in 100 years," a spokesperson for the German weather service DWD said, adding that in those regions, they have "seen more than double the amount of rainfall," causing flooding and structures to collapse.

Large swaths of western Germany saw 24-hour rainfall totals between 100 and 150 millimeters (3.9-5.9 inches), which represent more than a month's worth of rainfall in this region, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.

Cologne, in North Rhine-Westphalia, recorded 154 millimeters (6 inches) of rainfall in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, which is nearly double its monthly average for July of 87 millimeters.

Heavier localized downpours resulted in extreme flash flooding. In Reifferscheid, in the Ahrweiler district, an incredible 207 millimeters (8.1 inches) of rain fell in only nine hours, according to the European Severe Weather Database.

The intense deluges were the result of a slow-moving area of low pressure, which allowed a conveyor belt of warm and moist air to fuel powerful thunderstorms and heavy, long-lasting rain, according to the German weather service.

Extreme rainfall is becoming more common in the warming climate, as warmer air can hold more water vapor that is available to fall as rain.

"Climate change has arrived in Germany," Environment Minister Svenja Schulze tweeted Thursday. Speaking on German radio channel Inforadio, Schulze added that "the events show with what force the consequences of climate change can affect us all, and how important it is for us to adjust to extreme weather events in the future."

Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the UK's University of Reading, told CNN that "these kind of high-energy, sudden summer torrents of rain are exactly what we expect in our rapidly heating climate."

On Thursday, the DWD predicted that the "worst of the torrential rainfall is over," although more heavy rain is expected in southwestern Germany on Friday.

In neighboring Belgium, 12 people have died, authorities said Friday, with a further five people in the southern region of Wallonia still unaccounted for.

Some 21,000 people are also without electricity in Wallonia, according to energy supplier Ores, who said that the situation across the power network remains "extremely complicated." Some 300 distribution points are flooded and impossible to reach, it said.

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