Adenau, 19 July 2021 (dpa/MIA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the government will work hand in hand with the regions of western Germany hit by the floods to rebuild devastated communities.
She praised the rescue efforts and the solidarity she had seen during her visit on Sunday, but cautioned that the problems in the area would not be fixed quickly.
Merkel said she had come to get a real picture of the surreal, “ghostly situation” on the ground. “The German language hardly knows any words for the devastation that has been wrought here,” she said.
Merkel promised more efforts to protect people from the effects of climate change and said policies needed to take greater account of this than in the past.
The chancellor visited some of the worst hit areas including the community of Schuld, in the Eifel area, accompanied by Rhineland-Palatinate Premier Malu Dreyer.
Dreyer said it would be a long time before people felt they could recognize their homeland again. The priority now, she said, was the search for those missing. She promised not to rest until they were found.
The storm disaster in the Rhineland-Palatinate district of Ahrweiler has so far claimed 110 lives and injured 670 people. In addition, 46 deaths were registered in neighbouring North Rhine Westphalia, bringing the toll to more than 150.
The wider region has begun a huge clean-up operation to remove mud and debris strewn over the streets of once-picturesque towns and villages, and rebuild homes and infrastructure.
The Ahr tributary in Ahrweiler turned into a torrent after heavy rains, inundating whole communities. Police fear the death toll could rise further.
In North Rhine Westphalia, the area near a landslide in Erftstadt-Blessem was still highly dangerous, an official said on Sunday following an assessment of the site.
Several buildings and parts of a historic castle were destroyed in the area due to a sink hole and major landslides. The district was evacuated and people have been banned from the area.
Meanwhile in Eschweiler, three people were detained for looting, according to the state premier.
Hundreds of kilometres away in Germany’s Upper Bavaria, the district of Berchtesgadener Land on Saturday night declared a disaster situation due to flooding.
Two people died, District Administrator Bernhard Kern explained at a press conference in Bad Reichenhall on Sunday morning, but one victim had died of natural causes, which could also be related to the storm, Kern said.
Torrential rains had caused the river Ache in the district to burst its banks on Saturday evening. The fire brigade and other relief workers were working non-stop on Sunday, with 890 relief workers deployed in the villages worst hit.
The towns of Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen, Schoenau am Koenigssee, Marktschellenberg and Ramsau in the far south-east of Bavaria were particularly affected.
Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann and Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz reached the flooded area on Sunday afternoon.
Parts of the Belgium and the Netherlands which neighbour the hard-hit German states also saw extreme rain and flooding.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 31 on Sunday, the National Crisis Centre said, noting that 163 people were missing.
In the Netherlands, meanwhile, thousands of people in the southern city of Venlo were able to return to their homes on Sunday.
Messages of support were sent from around the world following the flooding.
In Tel Aviv, the city hall was lit with the colours of the German flag on Sunday evening, in a sign of solidarity with Germany.
Earlier, Israel’s new President Isaac Herzog sent his condolences and offered help in a letter to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Pope Francis also prayed for the people who died and for their families.