Merkel pledged quick financial aid on Sunday after visiting one of the regions worst hit by record rainfall and flooding that has killed at least 157 people in Germany alone in recent days during the country’s worst natural disaster for nearly six decades.
“It’s terrifying,” she told residents of the small town of Adenau in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the two hardest-hit regions in western Germany. . “The German language can hardly describe the devastation that has taken place. “
“Germany is a strong country,” Merkel said. “We will resist this force of nature, in the short term, but also in the medium and long term. “
Merkel visited Schuld, a village on a tight bend in the Ahr River in western Germany, where many buildings were damaged or destroyed by the rapidly rising waters on Wednesday evening. Authorities have said some people are still missing and fear the toll will continue to rise.
She also called for increased political attention to tackling climate change. “We have to hurry, we have to speed up the fight against climate change,” Merkel said.
Attention has now shifted to southern Germany and neighboring Austria, which remain on high alert amid heavy rains.
Roads were turned into rivers, vehicles washed away and swathes of land were buried under thick mud in Berchtesgadener Land in southern Germany. Hundreds of rescuers were looking for survivors in the Austrian border district.
In Austria’s Salzburg region, powerful floodwaters ravaged the city center on Saturday evening when the Kothbach river overflowed, but no injuries were reported.
Parts of Switzerland have remained on flood alert, although the threat posed by some of the most threatened water bodies like Lake Lucerne and the Aar in Bern has eased.
The European floods, which began on Wednesday, mainly affected the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia as well as parts of Belgium. Entire communities have been cut off, without electricity or communications.
In Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, 46 people were killed, including four firefighters. Belgium has confirmed 27 deaths.
The German government will prepare more than 300 million euros ($ 354 million) in immediate aid and billions of euros to repair collapsed houses, streets and bridges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the weekly Bild am Sonntag.
“There is enormous damage and it is clear: those who have lost their businesses, their homes, cannot stem the losses alone. “
There could also be a short-term payment of 10,000 euros ($ 11,805) for businesses affected by the impact of the floods as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the newspaper.
According to Adam Raney of Al Jazeera, in the village of Schuld in Germany, “everywhere you look you see destruction.”
“The people’s houses [are] in total disarray, ”said Raney.
“We saw people… picking up bucket after bucket of mud, debris from their homes. They look angry [and] when we asked them what they expected from the chancellor, they said their problems were too big at the moment, to talk about stupid political things.
Scientists, who have long said climate change will lead to heavier downpours, said it would take several more weeks to determine its role in the relentless rainfall.
Day of mourning
In Belgium, which will organize a national day of mourning on Tuesday, water levels fell on Sunday and the cleaning operation was underway. The army was dispatched to the eastern town of Pepinster, where a dozen buildings collapsed, to search for more casualties.
Tens of thousands of people are without electricity, and Belgian authorities have said that drinking water supplies are also of great concern.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo together visited the flooded areas of Rochefort and Pepinster on Saturday.
“Europe is with you,” von der Leyen tweeted afterwards. “We are with you in mourning and we will be with you in the rebuilding. “
Today I went to Rochefort and Pepinster. I have seen the devastation caused by the floods.
It hurts me to meet people who have lost their homes, the savings of a lifetime.
I told them: Europe is with you. We are with you in mourning and we will be with you in the rebuilding. pic.twitter.com/VLcHKk8hKo
– Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) July 17, 2021
Emergency service officials in the Netherlands said the situation had stabilized somewhat in the southern part of the province of Limburg, where tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in recent days, although the part north is still on high alert.
“In the north, they are closely monitoring the dikes and will maintain them,” Jos Teeuwen of the regional water authority told a press conference on Sunday.
In South Limburg, the authorities are still concerned about the safety of traffic infrastructure such as high-water roads and bridges.
The Netherlands has so far reported only property damage from the flooding and no deaths or missing.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen reporting from Nieuw-Bergen, the Netherlands, said “the danger is still there”.
“The water is still at a very high level, and it is expected to stay that way for a few days, and I hope it recedes afterwards,” Vaessen said.
“But of course it’s not a part of the Netherlands where people thought it was going to be flooded, that part is actually above sea level, and most of the other parts of the Netherlands. Bottom is below, but the river has still completely burst from its banks, ”she added.