German officials dismissed suggestions they had done too little to prepare for last week’s floods and said warning systems had worked, as the death toll from the country’s worst natural disaster in close proximity of six decades exceeded 160, write Andreas Kranz, Leon Kugeler Reuters TV, Holger Hansen, Anneli Palmen, Andreas Rinke, Matthias Inverardi, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam Maria Sheahan and Thomas Escritt.
Floods have devastated parts of Western Europe since last Wednesday (July 14), with the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as parts of Belgium, being among the worst affected.
In the district of Ahrweiler, south of Cologne, at least 117 people have been killed and police have warned that the death toll will almost certainly rise as clean-up continues following flooding that is expected to cost several billion.
The high death toll raised questions about why so many appeared to have been surprised by the flash floods, with opposition politicians suggesting the death toll revealed serious shortcomings in flood preparedness in Germany.
Seehofer said in response that the German National Meteorological Service (DWD) issues warnings to the 16 German states and from there to districts and communities that decide locally how to respond.
“It would be totally inconceivable for such a disaster to be managed centrally from any location,” Seehofer told reporters on Monday (July 19). âYou need local knowledge. “
Criticism of the emergency response was “cheap campaign rhetoric,” he said.
The devastation of the floods, attributed by meteorologists to the effects of climate change, could shake the German federal elections in September, which so far had little discussion of the climate.
A survey for Der Spiegel found only 26% of them believed Armin Laschet, the state prime minister who is the Conservatives’ candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, was a good crisis manager. Read more.
The campaign leader was pilloried over the weekend for appearing to laugh as the German president gave a solemn mourning speech.
Local authorities said the Steinbachtal dam visited by Seehofer – which had been at risk of rupturing for several days, causing the evacuation of thousands of people – had been stabilized and residents could return home later on Monday.
Armin Schuster, head of the Federal Disaster Management Agency, disputed claims that his agency had done too little, telling Reuters in an interview that it had sent 150 warnings, but it was up to local authorities to decide how to react.
Clean-up work continued in Ahrweiler district, but with many of the 170 missing believed to be in areas authorities had yet to reach or where the waters had not yet receded , few were likely to be found alive.
“Our aim is to give certainty as soon as possible,” said Stefan Heinz, a senior district police officer. “And that includes the identification of the victims.” Read more.
The worst floods cut entire communities off from electricity or communications. Residents were trapped in their homes by the rapidly rising floodwaters and a number of houses collapsed, leaving what Merkel described on Sunday as “terrifying” scenes. Read more.
The DWD weather service warned on Monday (July 12) last week that heavy rains were heading towards western Germany and flooding was very likely. On Wednesday morning, he said on Twitter that the risk of flooding was increasing and called on the population to seek advice from local authorities.
Germany is preparing a relief plan for hard-hit communities in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as in Bavaria and Saxony, where further flooding occurred over the weekend.
Insurers estimate that the direct cost of the floods could reach 3 billion euros ($ 3.5 billion). The Department of Transport estimates the cost of repairing damaged roads and railways at â¬ 2 billion, Bild reported.
A government source told Reuters on Monday that immediate aid worth around 400 million euros ($ 340 million) was being discussed, half of which would be paid by the federal government and the other half. by states.
The relief plan, which is also expected to include billions of euros for longer-term reconstruction efforts, is due to be presented to cabinet on Wednesday.
No new victims have been reported in Belgium, where 31 people have died. The number of missing Monday stood at 71, against 163 on Sunday. Some 3,700 households still had no drinking water.
In the Netherlands, thousands of residents of the southern province of Limburg have started returning home after water levels receded from record levels that threatened towns and villages in the region. Although the floods left traces of damage, all the large dikes resisted and no casualties were reported.