By G9ija

Heavy rains and floods lashing western Europe have killed at least 42 people in Germany and left many more missing, as rising waters led several houses to collapse on Thursday.

Unusually heavy rains also inundated neighbouring Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, where at least four people were reported dead.

Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) states were the worst hit in Germany by the deluge, which has caused rivers to burst their banks and threatens to bring down more homes.

At least 18 bodies were recovered in the region around the western town of Ahrweiler alone, a police spokesman told AFP. Local officials had earlier reported up to 70 people missing.

Farther north, the district of Euskirchen in NRW reported 15 dead.

Desperate residents sought refuge on the roofs of their homes as helicopters circled above to rescue them from the rising waters.

Pensioner Annemarie Mueller, 65, looking out at her flooded garden and garage from her balcony, said her town of Mayen had been completely unprepared for the destruction.

“Where did all this rain come from? It’s crazy,” she told AFP.

“It made such a loud noise and given how fast it came down we thought it would break the door down.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “shocked” by the devastation and thanked the “tireless volunteers and emergency service workers” at the scene.

NRW leader Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Merkel in September elections, cancelled a party meeting in Bavaria to survey the damage in his state, Germany’s most populous.

“We will stand by the towns and people who’ve been affected,” Laschet, clad in rubber boots, told reporters in the town of Hagen.