Rescue workers in western Germany toiled through the night to rescue people from the catastrophic floods that have left 81 dead, with thousands still missing.
Rain has eased in Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia but hundreds of towns and cities are this morning counting the cost of the worst rain in 200 years: up to 200 litres per square metre over two days.
Dozens of houses were destroyed and hundreds damaged by surging floodwaters from swollen rivers.
Damaged mobile phone masts mean some 1,300 people are still unaccounted for in Ahrweiler region of Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwest.
“When you haven’t heard for people for such a long time ... you have to fear the worst,” said Mr Roger Lewentz, interior minister in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Army divisions worked all night evacuating residents from old age care homes while helicopters are still rescuing people stranded on their home rooftops.
Laureta and Altuna Hyseni called their father on Wednesday evening to say the water was rising fast in their home in Rhineland-Palatinate, before the line went dead.
After hours without any sign of life, the two were rescued by helicopter from the roof and reunited with their father.
“We just wept,” said Shefik Hyseni to the Bild tabloid. “Now we have to see what’s left of our house”
The extreme water levels mean several dams in North Rhine-Westphalia remain under severe pressure and are considered instable, forcing the evacuation of dozens of towns and village.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is “grieving” for the dead and those who have suffered huge losses.
“These are horrendous days for people in the flood areas, my thoughts are with them,” said the German leader, on a visit to Washington. “You can be sure that the total forces of our state will do everything - even in the most difficult of circumstances - to save lives, reduce danger and reduce need.”
Even as the rescue efforts continue, the floods have turned attention on Armin Laschet, state premier in North Rhine Westphalia and chancellor hopeful in September’s federal election.
On Thursday night he said the rising number of extreme weather episodes – drought and flood – were clearly linked to climate change.
“That means that we need a greater pace in climate protection measures - on a national, European and world level,” he said.
Floods – and the response of political leaders – have swung German elections in the past, but Mr Laschet said “the situation is too serious here to generate [election-friendly] images”.
Opposition parties, in particular the Greens, have urged him to recalibrate what they call “business-friendly” climate change policies in his election manifesto.
Weather forecasts give a mixed picture for the days ahead. While rain has passed in some regions and water levels are dropping, revealing the full scale of destruction, Rhineland-Palatinate is expecting another 40 litres of rain per square metre, strong winds and hail.