VIENNA, Austria – Europe's flooding death toll swelled to at least 74 on Monday as torrential rains unleashed raging waters that swept away Russian tourists, triggered landslides in Germany and Switzerland and shut down shipping on the Danube River in Austria.
Russia was by far the hardest-hit area, with at least 58 deaths. Giant cranes hoisted ruined cars and other debris out of the Black Sea on Monday, and cleanup crews scoured coastal beaches in search of more bodies.
Thousands of Russian tourists who had descended on the Black Sea Coast for their summer vacations were caught up in the surprise flooding. Many remain stranded, their cars swept out to sea by a wall of water that came rushing down from the mountains.
As many as 4,000 tourists were still trapped in Shirokaya Balka, a scenic coastal village that was devastated by the flooding, the Interfax news agency reported.
An investigative team was being formed to examine all the deaths for possible criminal charges, prosecutor Nikolai Buzko told the ITAR-Tass news agency. The team was also examining why some buildings had been erected in areas where development is prohibited because of erosion and flooding concerns.
Austria saw its first three casualties in more than a week of unprecedented flooding. Two were in hard-hit towns in Salzburg province, where a firefighter swept away by a churning river in Mariapfarr, and a man whose body was found floating in a flooded cellar in Hallein. The third was a 48-year-old man who drowned in the village of Kirchheim in Upper Austria province.
"The scene is catastrophic," Wilfried Weissgaerber, the national fire brigade commander for the province of Lower Austria, told Austrian radio as he described collapsed houses and washed-out railway tracks.
In Germany, a police officer died after her car ran out of control and turned over late Sunday night on the way to Wismar on the Baltic Sea coast, and a 68-year-old woman died of exhaustion while trying to clear her flooded basement in Dresden. Near the city of Jena, another driver was killed in an accident that injured nine others, officials said.
Authorities in Thuringia state issued a flood alert for the Pleisse River, which broke its banks. Firefighters stacked 30,000 sandbags to protect houses from the rising water, and hundreds of German soldiers were helping residents reinforce riverbanks in other critical areas.
In the north, a train derailed near Hamburg after running into a mudslide caused by the rain. No one was injured, though the conductor and a passenger were treated for shock.
In the Czech Republic, thousands of people fled their homes Monday after numerous rivers overflowed their banks. In Radotin, a small town west of Prague, a 55-year-old man drowned in the swollen Vltava River, raising the death toll in that country to seven.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla declared a state of emergency in Prague and the regions of Bohemia, Plzen and Karlovy Vary. Authorities feared the Vltava could flood some areas of Prague, including the famous Kampa island, known for its architecture, and a zoo on the outskirts of the Czech capital. Some animals were moved to higher ground as a precaution.
A Prague hospital in the flood zone evacuated about 100 patients Monday, and workers were moving books and important documents to higher floors in buildings that house the National Library and the Czech Senate.
In eastern Switzerland, torrential rains caused a series of small landslides, including one that cut off a rail line between Chur and Arosa. Another on the Griesalp mountain in central Switzerland swept away a bridge, stranding more than 150 people until an emergency span could be put in place.
Austrian authorities used helicopters to rescue stranded homeowners from rooftops in Linz, about 120 miles west of Vienna, and 4,000 soldiers joined sandbagging operations Monday in the waterlogged provinces of Lower Austria and Upper Austria.
Water levels in the Danube River, which flows through Vienna, were being monitored anxiously. Austria's navigation authority halted all shipping on the Danube Monday as water levels neared 100-year highs, spokesman Reinhard Vorderwinkler said.
In Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, the sightseeing boat Amadeus sank Monday after being swamped in the flood-swollen Salzach River. There were no injuries.
Police in the scenic Danube town of Krems, meanwhile, said there were reports of evacuated homes being looted.