On Saturday, police and firemen still blocked the entrance to the village, which was deemed too dangerous for residents to return to due to the risk of more ground giving way. Inside, fire officials said they had established an 100-yard-wide buffer zone that even rescue workers were not allowed to enter at high risk of slipping on the northern edge.
Remarkably, there are yet to be any confirmed deaths in Blessem — about 15 miles south of Cologne — in the flooding that claimed more than 150 lives in Germany and Belgium.
Beyond the cordons lay eerily deserted streets, empty except for an occasional firetruck or a passing helicopter.
As the magnitude of the cleanup effort began to emerge, so did questions as to whether more could be done in terms of protection and early warning systems, or if such catastrophic events are simply a new reality due to climate change.
But there was also relief in Blessem that it could have been worse as other towns and villages mourned those lost.
On the outskirts of Blessem, teams from the army and fire service used winches to pull out vehicles on a roadway that had turned into a torrent after the rains began late Wednesday in a band stretching from western Germany to France. Rescuers said they had no idea if the people in the cars had time to escape.
They cleared around 300 yards by late Saturday, pulling out a van that was wedged under three trucks. But there is still around another mile of road to go, and floodwaters had not receded enough yet for all the vehicles to be accessible.
The position of the town — built on sandy ground between two riverbanks with a quarry pit below — helped create conditions that sheared off part of Blessem, said Elmar Mettke, a spokesman for the local fire brigade.
It was set in motion once the rivers burst their banks.
“It’s a sandy area between rivers,” Mettke said. Water was also building up in the quarry at a lower elevation.
“It played a role that it was sand and wet sand, and then the open hole,” he said. Houses began to be pulled down. He said he cannot say exactly how many as aerial assessments are still being made.
There are still concerns for the stability of the buildings that remain. In the neighboring village, Liblar, firefighters evacuated a nursing home after inspectors found the foundation was shifting.
“We have damage to the foundations, and there’s the possibility of a collapse,” said Gerrit Meenen, as his team from the fire service in the nearby city of Cologne led out residents and loaded them into vans.
It took Schommers-Bunde a full two days after she was forced to flee her home on Thursday morning to find out whether all her friends and acquaintances were safe.
“There’s a lot of speculation that some people have died, but there’s just no information,” she said.
“The situation is just surreal,” she added, “and depressing.”
There were no official warnings to evacuate. Schommers-Bunde got a knock on a door. She waited with an 82-year-old neighbor, but floodwaters rose quickly. She ended up wading out in waters up to her waist.
Dirk Nolte, 52, said a neighbor got a call from his landlord in Greece to tell him the area was in danger.
“From the police, the fire service, nothing,” he said.
Mettke called it a “political question.”
“We have retention areas and we had dams in the Erft where we thought that high tides could be held back and leveled out. They did not work,” he said.
Instead, people in Blessem were rescued from rooftops.
“We knew the flooding was going to come, but we never thought it would be that bad,” said Ewald Fuss, a 56-year-old logistics worker who lives in a neighboring village but went in to help get his mother-in-law out as the waters rose.
He was allowed in briefly on Friday to get her medicine. “At the beginning, everything looks quite normal, but then it’s like a bomb hit it,” he said.
Others said they were frustrated by the politicking that has followed, as Germany gears up for elections in September that will pick a successor to retiring chancellor Angela Merkel.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Armin Laschet — leader of the state of North Rhine-Westfalia, where some of the worst flooding occurred — visited the area on Saturday, making a stop at a fire station.
“Catastrophe Laschet,” heckled Thomas Stegh, a climate activist with the group Parents for Future. “I think it’s okay to show support to the area, but in the end it’s some kind of a PR stunt, as always,” he said.
“He’s always taking a lot about future climate targets,” he said of Laschet, a possible successor to Merkel. “But it’s not enough. It’s all talk, little action.”
Susanne Lehmann, a 41-year-old biologist who had also gathered for the event, said she felt more could be done when it came to flood protection.
“There should be more retention banks, especially if you know this kind of catastrophe will happen more,” she said.
At the police cordon, residents waited late into the day.
“Everyone is a bit frustrated,” Nolte said.
Still, the wait to go home could be a long one.
“Blessem will not be opened today,” Mettke said. “Blessem will not be opened this week.”
Katharina Köll in contributed to this report.