Police in Germany have said that at least 33 people have died and many more are missing following severe floods in western parts of the country.

The states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia have been hit with the worst of the flooding and buildings and cars have been seen to be washed away,

In neighbouring Belgium, at least four people have lost their lives, while the Netherlands has also been badly hit.

It follows record rainfall in parts of western Europe that has caused major rivers to burst their banks.

At least 19 people died in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate, after the Ahr river, which flows into the Rhine, burst its banks.

Malu Dreyer, chief of the Rhineland-Palatinate state, described the flooding as a "catastrophe".

She said: "There are dead, missing and many people still in danger.

"All of our emergency services are in action round the clock and risking their own lives."

Police helicopters and hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to some areas to assist stranded residents, with dozens waiting on rooftops to be rescued, it has been reported.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in the US ahead of a meeting with President Joe Biden, said she was "shocked by the disaster".

Schools have been closed around the west of the country, while transport links have been severely disrupted.

In the mountainous Eifel region, around 25 houses are in danger of collapsing in the district of Schuld bei Adenau, where a state of emergency has been declared, according to German broadcaster SWR.

It reported that some houses had been completely cut-off and could no longer be reached by boat.

Eight deaths were reported in the district of Euskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, while four people died in the Eifel region when their homes were swept away.

Two firefighters died on Wednesday in North Rhine-Westphalia. One drowned, while the other reportedly collapsed following a rescue operation. 

Belgium has also been hit by flash floods, and dramatic video showed cars being swept away along a street in the city of Verviers.

Meanwhile, in the town of Pepinster, 10 houses collapsed after the River Vesdre burst its banks.

Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper reported that almost 2,000 people were forced to evacuate in the town of Chaudfontaine.

Meanwhile rail services in the southern half of Belgium have been suspended because of the extreme weather.

In the Netherlands, the province of Limburg has been left heavily flooded following downpours overnight. 

Forecasts suggest more heavy rain is due in much of western Europe on Thursday and Friday.

Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, but linking any single event to global warming is complicated.

Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, blamed the extreme weather on global warming during a visit to a hard-hit area.

"We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures... because climate change isn't confined to one state," he said.