BERLIN — Severe flooding in Germany and Belgium left at least 40 people dead on Thursday, with dozens of others missing and still more stranded on rooftops as violent storms lashed a swath of Western Europe.
Swift-moving water from swollen rivers surged through cities and villages in three western German states, the hardest-hit region. In Belgium, where at least two people were killed, the regional authorities ordered the nearly 200,000 inhabitants of Liège to evacuate the city, warning that the Meuse River, which flows through its center, was about to burst its banks.
The storms and resulting high water also battered neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands as a slow-moving weather system threatened to dump even more rain on the inundated region.
The devastation caused by the severe weather came just days after the European Union announced an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, as part of plans to make the 27-country bloc carbon-neutral by 2050. And environmental activists and politicians were quick to draw parallels between the flooding and the effects of climate change.
But the immediate focus on Thursday remained the rescue efforts, with hundreds of firefighters, emergency responders and soldiers working to save people from the upper floors and rooftops of their homes, fill sandbags to stem the rising water and carry out searches for the missing.
“We have no exact numbers of dead, but can say that we have many people who have become victims of this flood,” Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the hardest-hit states in Germany, told reporters on Thursday.
“Many people lost everything that they own after the mud flowed into their homes,” said Mr. Laschet, who is running to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor in national elections on Sept. 26.
The flooding in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate was some of the worst in decades, after several days of steady rain dumped more water than could be absorbed by the ground and sewage systems.
The police in Koblenz said 18 people had died in the heavily hit Ahrweiler district, where the Ahr river burst its banks, inundating the town of Schuld with murky pale brown water. Six houses collapsed, and several others threatened to give way, the police said.
Dozens of people remained unaccounted for, and the police urged people to upload images taken of the floods to help them in their search.
The authorities in the district of Euskirchen, south of Düsseldorf, said that at least 15 people were known to have died in the flooding there. Many others were still being rescued, although some villages remained unreachable.
Ms. Merkel, who is visiting Washington, expressed shock at the loss of life and the extent of the damage caused by the storms. “My sympathies go out to the families of the dead and missing,” the chancellor said via her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, on Thursday.
Hundreds of firefighters worked through the night to evacuate people who had been left stranded. Two died while trying to rescue people in Altena, in North Rhine-Westphalia, the police said.
Dozens of communities were left without power, while some villages were cut off entirely, the police said. Telephone and cellphone networks were also down, making it more difficult for the authorities to establish who was missing.
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In Wuppertal, sirens sounded just after midnight to warn people living near the Wupper river to evacuate. Much of the city remained closed early Thursday as hundreds of firefighters worked to rescue stranded people.
Neighboring Belgium and the Netherlands also experienced significant flooding as the weather system made its way across the region. In Belgium, the flooding was reported to have caused the deaths of at least two people in Liège Province, according to the country’s public broadcaster, RTBF.
As the Meuse continued to rise to dangerous levels, the regional authorities urged people in the city to evacuate, and if that was not possible, to shelter in the upper floors of buildings. All stores were ordered shut, and tourists were advised to leave.
The Belgian Defense Force said it had deployed helicopters and personnel to assist with rescue and recovery efforts amid reports that the river was expected to rise several feet, threatening a dam.
In the Netherlands, soldiers were sent to help with evacuations in Limburg Province, where at least one nursing home had to be cleared, according to the Dutch news outlet NU.nl.
Intense rain in Switzerland led the country’s weather service to warn on Thursday that flooding would worsen in the coming days. It said there was a high risk of flooding on Lake Biel, Lake Thun and Lake Lucerne, and noted the potential for landslides.
The leader of Friends of the Earth Germany in North Rhine-Westphalia linked the severe flooding in the region to what he said were failed policies by lawmakers in charge of the state. The impact of climate change is one of the issues that has been fiercely debated in Germany before the September elections in which the Greens party is in the running for second place, behind Mr. Laschet’s conservative Christian Democrats.
“The catastrophic results of the heavy rain in the past few days are largely homemade,” said Holger Sticht, who heads the regional chapter and blamed lawmakers and industry for building in floodplains and woodlands. “We urgently need to change course.”
Megan Specia contributed reporting.