A bright blue painting sits upon the soaked debris scattered around the streets of Stolberg in western Germany, marking the studio of local artist Dennis Brandt.
Inside, more wreckage is piled in a heap and drenched sketches peel from the walls where floodwaters rose almost to the ceiling.
“The town has been destroyed, everything really, streets and houses,” Brandt told Al Jazeera.
“My studio, 20 years of work, paintings, everything is gone. It was a painting school for children as well, now that’s gone too.”
Among his now-destroyed collection was a post-apocalyptic view of Stolberg that he had painted last year, which depicted high waters lapping around the town’s marketplace. Brandt could scarcely believe it had become a reality.
“Many of my friends no longer have a home,” he said. “It’s like a war.”
The scenes of devastation in Stolberg were replicated across swaths of western Germany and Belgium this week as floods devastated low-lying towns in the region.
In Germany, at least 156 people have died, making it the worst natural disaster to hit the country in almost 60 years.
The Ahrweiler district south of Cologne reported at least 110 dead, among them 12 residents of a care home for the disabled.
The tragedy has raised widespread concerns that German authorities have not done enough to prepare for increasingly frequent bouts of extreme weather, driven by climate change.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, an unusually static low-pressure zone dumped record levels of rainfall, with the worst-affected areas battered by intense storms over Wednesday night.
Some received as much as two months of rainfall in just 24 hours, Germany’s meteorological agency said. Here