BERLIN — Following a day of frantic rescue efforts and orders to evacuate towns rapidly filling with water unloosed by violent storms, the German authorities said late Thursday that after confirming dozens of deaths, they were unable to account for at least 1,300 other people.
That staggering figure was announced after swift-moving water from swollen rivers surged through cities and villages in two western German states, where the hardest-hit regions said that 58 people were known to have died and other fatalities were expected.
With communication badly hampered, the authorities were hoping that the missing people are safe, if unreachable. But the storms and the floods have already proved deadly.
At least 11 more people were reported to have died in Belgium, according to authorities who also ordered inhabitants of downtown Liège to evacuate as the Meuse River, which flows through its center, overflowed its banks.
The storms and resulting high water also battered neighboring Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as a slow-moving weather system threatened to dump even more rain on the inundated region overnight and into early Friday.
One of the most heavily hit regions was the Ahrweiler district, where flash floods surged through the village of Schuld, washing away six houses and leaving several more on the verge of collapse.
With so many unaccounted for, the district authority said late Thursday the number of dead was expected to climb. “Given the complexity of the level of damage, it is not possible at this time to make a final assessment of the situation,” it said in a statement.
“We have no exact numbers of dead, but can say that we have many people who have become victims of this flood,” Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the hardest-hit states in Germany, told reporters on Thursday.
The police in Koblenz said 18 people had died in the heavily hit Ahrweiler district, where the Ahr river burst its banks, inundating the town of Schuld with murky pale brown water.
The police urged people to upload images taken of the floods to help them in their search.