BERLIN, 18 July: A bright blue painting sits upon the soaked debris scattered around the streets of Stolberg in western Germany deals, marking the studio of local artist Dennis Brandt.
Inside, more wreckage is piled in a heap and drenched sketches peel from the walls where floodwaters rose almost to the ceiling.
“The town has been destroyed, everything really, streets and houses,” Brandt told to International news channel.
“My studio, 20 years of work, paintings, everything is gone. It was a painting school for children as well, now that’s gone too.”
Among his now-destroyed collection was a post-apocalyptic view of Stolberg that he had painted last year, which depicted high waters lapping around the town’s marketplace. Brandt could scarcely believe it had become a reality.
“Many of my friends no longer have a home,” he said. “It’s like a war.”
The scenes of devastation in Stolberg were replicated across swaths of western Germany and Belgium this week as floods devastated low-lying towns in the region.
In Germany, at least 133 people have died, making it the worst natural disaster to hit the country in almost 60 years.
The Ahrweiler district south of Cologne reported at least 90 dead, among them 12 residents of a care home for the disabled.
The tragedy has raised widespread concerns that Germany deals authorities have not done enough to prepare for increasingly frequent bouts of extreme weather, driven by climate change.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, an unusually static low-pressure zone dumped record levels of rainfall, with the worst-affected areas battered by intense storms over Wednesday night.
Some received as much as two months of rainfall in just 24 hours, Germany’s meteorological agency said.Rescue operations
Tens of thousands of emergency services and at least 850 soldiers have been deployed to affected areas, using helicopters, armoured vehicles and boats to rescue people trapped by the waters and search through the remains of destroyed buildings.
Rescue operations continue, but have been hampered by extensive damage to infrastructure, with many roads damaged or impassable, phone networks down in several areas, and more than 100,000 people without power as of Friday evening.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on Saturday, offering consolation to those hit by tragedy.
“We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members,” he said. “Their fate is ripping our hearts apart.”
Armin Laschet, premier of NRW and favourite to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor after September’s elections, appeared alongside Steinmeier, and promised swift financial assistance to those affected.
“We will do everything so that what needs to be rebuilt can be rebuilt.”
Though floodwaters have receded in many areas, authorities remain on high alert.
About 700 residents from one district of Wassenberg, next to the Dutch border, were evacuated last night as a dam on the Ruhr broke.
Wassenberg Mayor Marcel Maurer said the situation was stabilising, but it was “too early to give the all-clear”.
Germany’s meteorological service has also issued weather alerts for south east Bavaria this weekend, where flooding is expected on the Danube.