Thousands of villagers in western German were praying for a miracle Friday night amid fears a nearby dam could collapse and inundate their homes with water.
The villages in the Euskirchen region, near the city of Bonn, have been evacuated with 4,500 told to flee their homes after cracks started appearing in the dam holding back the nearby Steinbach reservoir.
Engineers warned the dam is dangerously close to collapse after a huge amount of water was dumped into the reservoir as three months' worth of rain fell on the region in just one week, causing widespread devastation.
The dam is designed to vent excess water, but its drainage system has been blocked by debris including trees and rubble from destroyed buildings. The strain was clearly visible Friday as huge cracks appeared in the soil reinforcing the front of the dam.
It is just the latest episode in the evolving weather crisis in central Europe, with more than 120 people killed across Germany and Belgium in some of the worst flooding in decades with more than 1,000 still missing.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
By Friday afternoon, the death toll in Germany alone stood at 106 marking the country's deadliest floods since at least 1962 when more than 300 people were killed in flooding in Hamburg.
However, there were fears that toll could rise considerably with more than 1,000 people still missing, mostly from the hard-hit Ahrweiler region, south of Bonn, where whole villages were destroyed as the Ahr river broke its banks.
At least another 23 people were killed in neighbouring Belgium where a 'tsunami-like' torrent of water inundated parts of Leige and Verviers, causing the Meuse and Vesdre rivers to burst their banks.
Such is the scale of the devastation and human tragedy that economic cost-counting has barely even begun, though one German official said bluntly that the cost is certainly in the 'billions'.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she was planning to visit the disaster zone just hours after a landslide in the town of Blessem, near Cologne, killed an unknown number of people when waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit - taking homes, cars, and families with it.
Helicopters circled overhead following the collapse, looking for anyone left to save. It is thought 55 people were evacuated from the town overnight, but an unknown number returned in the morning to check the damage when the landslide struck.
There are fears the crisis could worsen the a dam at the Steinbach reservoir (insert) on the verge of collapse due to the pressure of water behind it, as 4,500 people living in three villages below (top right) told to evacuate their homes
Engineers warned a huge amount of pressure has built up behind the dam after it was inundated with water and its drainage system jammed, with huge cracks visible in the soil wall helping to hold it up (pictured bottom)Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
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It comes after a landslide in the flood-damaged town of Blessem, near Cologne, killed 'several' people on Friday as Germany's worst flooding crisis in decades continued to worsen
Houses on the outskirts of Blessem were torn to pieces as the ground beneath them collapsed and fell into a nearby gravel pit in the wake of torrential rains that have caused chaos in western Germany
A section of sewage pipe is visible (left) alongside the partially-destroyed remains of a house in Blessem after a landslide
Chunks of road, pieces of concrete sewage pipe, cars, and wrecked buildings are shown collapsed into a watery hole on the outskirts of Blessem, Germany, following the landslide
Heavy rains caused mudslides and flooding in the town of Blessem, western Germany, killing an unknown number of people
Aerial view shows an area completely destroyed by the floods in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany
'Several' people have been killed in the landslip, local officials said, though they were unable to say precisely how many
Cars lie crumpled against concrete blocks that once formed part of the sewer system after the ground gave way due to a landslide in Blessem, Germany
Two cars lie at the bottom of a deep hole created when waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit in Germany
A partly-destroyed car that was parked in a garage is left hanging off the edge of a cliff after the ground collapsed in Blessem
The death toll in Germany from the flooding had already topped 80 even before the landslide hit Blessem, sweeping away homes and part of a castle
Officials said the landslide in Blessem had 'certainly' killed people though were unable to immediately say how many amid chaos caused by Germany's deadliest flooding crisis for decades
A rescue helicopter circles over the town as emergency services try to save 15 people that went back to their homes and got trapped when the landslide hit
Water drains away from the town of Blessem, Germany, after a landslide caused part of the ground to collapse (top left and centre), killing 'several' people on Friday
Collapsed ground is seen near the village of Blessem, Germany, after flooding caused a landslide which killed 'several' people
A bicycle that was tied up outside a house in Blessem now hangs on the edge of a giant hole after the ground fell away
A man rides his bicycle through the flooded streets of in Blessem, Germany, following devastating floods that have killed nearly 100
Damaged cars lie in the rubble in an area completely destroyed by the floods in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, Germany
An aerial view of the landslide shows how what used to be a street corner collapsed into the ground, taking the road, houses, cars and other debris with it
The collapse happened in Blessem, south of Cologne (main), when flooding from the Erft river caused waterlogged ground to collapse into a nearby gravel pit (inset) - dragging homes and cars down with it
The flooding crisis was triggered by a heavy and slow-moving rainstorm over western Germany that dumped more than a months' worth of rain in a night, and also impacted parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg
Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 63 people had died there, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River.
In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could increase.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was 'stunned' by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.
'In the hour of need, our country stands together,' Steinmeier said in a statement. 'It's important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.'
Rescuers sought to save people trapped in their homes in the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed when the ground beneath them sank suddenly. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.
'We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,' county administrator Frank Rock said. 'We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued.'
Speaking to German broadcaster n-tv, Rock said authorities had no precise number yet for how many had died in the flash floods that turned roads into wild raging torrents, ripping up cobblestones, collapsing homes and flipping parked cars into piles of rubble.
'One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn't manage to escape,' he said.
Authorities were still trying to account for hundreds of people listed as missing, but cautioned that the high number could be due to duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone service.
After Germany, where more than 100 people have died, Belgium was the hardest hit by the floods that caused homes to be ripped away.
Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday that the country's official confirmed death toll had grown to 20, with 20 other people still missing.
Water levels on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands remains critical, and several dikes were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said.
Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the looming threat of flooding from the river.
Flash floods this week followed days of heavy rainfall in Western Europe. Thousands of people remained homeless in Germany after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities.
An aerial image shows the extent of flood damage in Shuld, a town in the Ahrweiler region of Germany, which was hardest-hit by flooding which swept away homes overnight Wednesday
Rescue crews are now sifting through rubble in the Ahrweiler region (town of Shuld, pictured) where 1,300 people are missing amid warnings the death toll could rise considerably
An aerial picture taken with a drone shows the destroyed village of Schuld in the district of Ahrweiler after heavy flooding of the river Ahr
Dozens have died and more than 1,000 people are missing after Germany was hit by some of the deadliest flooding in the country's modern history
An aerial view taken with a drone shows a damaged car at a cemetery in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
Damaged cars pile up on a street after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany
A local surveys the damage caused by flooding in Bad Neuenahr, in Ahrweiler district, where most of the missing hail from
People carry their belongings past a broken road in Schuld, Germany
People walk past rubble in a street devastated by the floods in Euskirchen, western Germany
A destroyed car lies on its side in a ditch amid the ruins of the town of Schuld, Germany, following severe flooding
A man tries to cleans his garden of mud and other debris in Schuld, Germany, after devastating floods
Debris hangs on a damaged bridge over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, two days after devastating floods hit
Firefighters rest next to debris of houses in Schuld, Germany, after a two-day rescue operation that is far from complete
A fireman walks past the ruins of a car in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, after it was swept away by floodwaters
A man carrying a shovel on his shoulder walks amid the debris near damaged cars after flooding in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
A van crushed by the torrents is pressed against a tree after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany
Men walk past driftwood, rubble, and an overturned car, as they survey the damage caused by severe