BERLIN – Storms caused severe flooding across parts of western and central Europe, with a fireman drowning Wednesday during rescue work in Germany and a man missing after he was swept away by a raging stream elsewhere in the country.
The fireman died in the western German town of Altena, police told German news agency dpa. In the eastern town of Joehstadt, firefighters were searching for a man who had been trying to secure his property from rising waters when he disappeared.
Firefighters in Hagen, near Altena, rescued several drivers whose vehicles got stuck in a flooded underpass. Videos on social media showed streets in the city filled with knee-high water and others buried by landslides.
A fallen tree trapped a woman in the German town of Mettmann, and responders had to hold her head up to keep her from drowning in rising flood waters until firefighters could free her.
Residents in nearby Erkrath were warned not to shower or use their washers because rain had overloaded the local sewage system. And in Duesseldorf, city authorities called on residents in the city's Grafenberg district to leave their apartments Wednesday because of potential flooding.
Hof county in Bavaria issued a disaster alert late Tuesday as basements filled with water, trees were uprooted and some areas lost power overnight. Germany’s DWD weather service said the region saw 80 liters (more than 21 gallons) of rain per square meter in the space of 12 hours.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert described the images from regions hardest hit by flooding as “terrible.”
“Even though not every event, not every flooding or local incident, is related to climate change, many scientists tell us that the frequency, the intensity and the regularity with which this happens is a consequence of climate change,” Seibert said.
DWD meteorologists forecast declining rainfall in western Germany for Thursday, but more in the country's southwest and south — though not as intense as Wednesday's precipitation.
In the the neighboring Czech Republic, firefighters received 800 calls about incidents ranging from fallen trees to flooded basements. A highway linking the capital, Prague, to the east of the country partly flooded overnight. Thousands of households remained without electricity Wednesday.
Mud inundated houses in some towns in eastern Belgium as sustained rains hit the Ardennes hills hard. The tourist center of Spa, close to the famed Formula One track, could not handle the water streaming down from the surrounding hills that turned streets into rivers.
Cars piled on top of one another and cellars flooded, but no serious injuries were reported.
The Belgian meteorological institute issued a red alert Wednesday for the zone around Liege, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Brussels, which was forecast to get more rain in a day than the area would normally receive in a whole summer month. The rain is expected to last until Friday.
Authorities in the Netherlands warned the heavy rainfall in the southern province of Limburg could turn streams into dangerously fast-flowing torrents and urged the public to stay away from them. Boat owners were advised to steer clear of the Maas river due to strong currents and debris being washed downstream.
Dutch media showed people being rescued Tuesday from a historic mill in the Netherlands that was partially submerged under floodwaters estimated at 1.5 meters (5 feet) high.
Authorities in Limburg later said that a storm water storage area in the town of Hoensbroek was at risk of overflowing and told nearby residents to seek a safe place in their homes and turn off their gas and electricity. Authorities were attempting to ease pressure by releasing water but warned local residents that doing so could cause damage to nearby homes.
Swollen rivers were expected to overflow into their floodplains later in the week, which is unusual in the summer. It more often happens in the spring when rivers such as the Rhine and the Maas rise due to melting snow in European hills and mountains.
In Switzerland, authorities raised the flood warning for Lake Lucerne to the highest level and banned all shipping.
France's national weather service issued warnings Wednesday for five regions in the country's northeast. area. Much of France has seen an unusually cool and wet summer so far.
Meanwhile, parts of southeastern Europe have been experiencing a heat wave. Temperatures in Albania and neighboring Kosovo reached 35-37 degrees Celsius (95-99 F ) on Wednesday.
No deaths have been reported from the heat wave so far. Authorities strongly urging the public, especially children and older adults, to stay home during the day.
Mike Corder in The Hague, Karel Janicek in Prague, Angela Charlton in Paris, Raf Casert in Brussels and Llazar Semini in Tirana contributed to this report.