Berlin — Heavy storms have inundated parts of western Germany, dumping enough rain to turn roads into raging rivers and cutting entire towns off with floodwater. At least 60 people were confirmed dead in Germany and Belgium on Thursday and dozens were still unaccounted for as rescue crews tried to get into flooded areas any way they could, according to The Associated Press.
Among those killed were nine residents of an assisted living facility for people with disabilities, the AP reported, and two firefighters involved in rescue efforts across the region.
Authorities said at least 30 people died in North Rhine-Westphalia state and 28 in Rhineland-Palatinate to the south, the AP reported. Belgian media reported eight deaths in that country.
Six houses collapsed in the Eifel region and people had to take refuge on the roofs of other buildings nearby. At least five people lost their lives there alone, and several other houses were in danger of collapsing, a police spokesman told CBS News.
A reservoir dam was threatening to burst, putting many more homes at risk.
The number of people officially listed as missing hit almost 70 earlier Thursday, police said, as German armed forces were called in to help with search and rescue missions across the western half of the country.
"I grieve for those who have lost their lives in this disaster," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to the White House on Thursday. "I fear the full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days."
Biden also paid his condolences. "Our hearts go out to the families who've lost loved ones," he said.
Disaster declarations were issued in some counties in the hard-hit states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. Schools and day care centers were forced to close, traffic was paralyzed and electricity and cell phone networks were down in many areas.
A 46-year-old firefighter was among the dead after being swept away by the floodwaters while rescuing a man, police confirmed on Wednesday. Just two hours later, a 52-year-old firefighter collapsed and died during an operation in another area.
"Communication is largely down, internet and telephone connections are limited in many parts of the district," said a Facebook post from the local government in North Rhine-Westphalia, noting that even the emergency phone number was out of service. "Human rescues are taking place. In some cases, there is no access."
With service halted on a number of lines, Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national rail network, advised travelers to avoid North Rhine-Westphalia state entirely if possible.
The same storm system dumped enough rain to cause flooding also in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.