(LONDON) — Europe’s devastating flood death toll rose to at least 183 on Sunday with hard-hit west Germany and Belgium reeling from fast-rising waters that destroyed neighborhoods, swallowed up streets and swept away cars.
There are at least 156 dead in Germany, according to authorities. The hardest-hit areas in Germany are Rhineland-Palatinate, where 110 were killed in the catastrophic flooding and in North Rhine-Westphalia, where 46 people died, the Koblenz Police and the German Ministry of Interior said. About 150 people remain unaccounted for in Germany.
In Belgium, at least 27 are dead and 103 others remain unaccounted for on Sunday, according to the Belgian Interior Minister. The death toll is expected to rise.
The front-runner candidate poised to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s September election, Armin Laschet, faced backlash after he was seen in photos turning to another person and laughing as Germany’s president spoke about the catastrophic floods to reporters, The Associated Press reported. Laschet has since issued an apology.
“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote on Twitter Saturday night. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”
Western countries in Europe were hit with record rainfall that caused rivers to swell and triggered catastrophic flooding this week throughout Germany and Belgium, and southern parts of the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Horrific images revealed entire communities inundated with water, collapsed edifices and rescue workers combing through the wreckage.
The waters started to recede in some parts of Western Europe as of Saturday and efforts were launched to clean up the leftover debris and potentially discover more bodies.
Many areas are still grappling without electricity or telephone service.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported that some 17,150 houses in Belgium were without power as of Saturday and roughly 30,000 households did not have access to drinking water. About 3,500 homes had no gas and officials warned that a shortage of emergency supplies may last for several weeks.
Officials said 85% of the homes inspected in the Liege region of Belgium are at risk of collapsing.
As the water receded in some parts of Germany, an ABC News crew was able to reach the picturesque village of Ahrweiler, which had been cut off by flooding and where numerous homes dating back to the 16th century were damaged.
A large, concrete bridge leading into the Ahrweiler was destroyed by the flooding and some homes along the Ahr River were split in half. Uprooted trees littered the river.
Surrounded by medieval fortress walls, residents in the town were out over the weekend shoveling thick mud off of cobblestone streets and pointed out a water line that was well over six feet tall.
One man in Ahrweiler told ABC News he saved his elderly mother from the floodwaters. He said the water rose so quickly he sought refuge on the roof of his home where he watched as the flood carried cars down the street.
The severe weather triggered widespread evacuations. Some 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg after the breach of a dike on the Run River. Thousands of residents in several Dutch towns evacuated Thursday and Friday were allowed to return home Saturday morning.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled Saturday to Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne.
Caretaker Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte visited impacted towns Friday and said the region had been through “three disasters.”
“First, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery,” he said. “It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.
German and Belgian officials said rescue and recovery efforts are now underway and crews are working to shore up dikes and protect roads.
In Germany, more than 19,000 emergency forces are conducting rescue operations in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, according to the regional government. In the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, police said they received reports of 618 people injured, DPA reported.
Speaking alongside U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock over the scope of devastation from the flooding.
“I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster,” Merkel said during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. “I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days.”
Merkel returned to Germany over the weekend and visited the hard-hit town of Schuld in the Rhineland-Palatinate region. She described the devastation as “surreal” and “terrifying,” and pledged quick financial aid.
“Germany is a strong country,” Merkel told officials in Schuld. “We will stand up to this force of nature, in the short term, but also in the medium and long term.”
ABC News’ Morgan Winsor contributed to this report
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.