BONN, Germany — Emergency response and aid efforts were running in high gear after severe flooding in western and southwestern Germany toppled buildings, washed away vehicles and left nearly 200 people dead in Germany and Belgium.
Officials said the situation in numerous cities and towns in the regions remained tense July 16 as many people remained missing and others could not be reached by rescue crews. Tens of thousands are without electricity.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the widespread flooding a catastrophe during a visit to the United States, where she met with President Joe Biden. Catholic bishops have also expressed their dismay as priests helped in the aid efforts.
The flooding from torrential rains also affected areas of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Officials said more than 700 people were missing.
In Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a particularly hard-hit area south of Bonn, Father Joerg Meyrer helped in the emergency response. He told the German Catholic news agency KNA that the area was completely without fresh water and electricity.
“I just went to a neighboring village in order to recharge my mobile phone and go to the toilet. The town is, like the entire Ahr Valley, destroyed. I know of around 1,000 families who no longer have a place to stay,” he said.
“Our three churches are no longer usable, whereby this is really not the most important thing. The situation in the city is catastrophic,” he added.
Father Meyrer praised the work of volunteers, some of whom have been working around the clock.
“For, how do you supply a city where there is no water, no bread? Where the hotels are flooded. Cars are strewn across the streets, piled atop each other and destroyed. The situation is completely chaotic,” he said.
Despite everything, the priest is convinced “that the Ahr Valley will prevail” because “the people are linked in solidarity. But it will take a long while and leave deep scars behind.”
Meanwhile, several bishops expressed concern and offered prayers for victims.
On July 18, Pope Francis reiterated his sympathy for the victims of the flooding in the three countries, asking that God to receive those who died, comfort survivors, and strengthen rescue workers.
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, said via Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, relatives and rescue workers. Water normally stands for life. Here, water is death.”
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne also expressed shock over the devastation, adding, “In my thoughts I am with all the people who are suffering from the devastating storm catastrophe in Germany.”
Similar expressions of concern came from bishops Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, Stephan Ackermann of Trier and Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz. “We are experiencing much helplessness, but we also are seeing people who are helping out to the limits of their possibilities,” Bishop Kohlgraf said.