German Chancellor Angela Merkel today promised urgent aid for the victims of floods that have already left 156 dead in the west of the country and reflected the ravages of a climate emergency that must be tackled "quickly and ambitiously". The floods of a few days ago in Belgium have left at least 31 dead and 163 missing, according to the latest data released Sunday by the federal crisis center.
"We must hurry, we must be faster in the fight against the climate crisis," said the German chancellor, visibly shocked, before the panorama, which she described as "surreal" and "phantasmagoric", after visiting several critical points of the catastrophe experienced in part of Germany and neighboring Belgium.
Not everything can be attributed to climate change, he admitted. Human action in river basins also needs to be rethought. "But the sum of the extreme phenomena we are witnessing shows that we must be more ambitious," she added, implying the need to achieve climate neutrality "as soon as possible," she said.
Merkel made these statements after touring Schuld and other parts of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate with the head of that regional government, Malu Dreyer. In addition to her goals in the fight against climate change, the Chancellor pledged to provide direct aid to the flood victims.
The destruction suffered in Schuld, a town of some 700 inhabitants, has made it a symbol of the catastrophe that has hit this "Land" and neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Chancellor indicated that her government will undertake an emergency aid package as early as the next Council of Ministers on the 21st. Merkel did not specify the size of the package. Her Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, said in statements that the figure of 300 million euros would be needed to support the victims, while the reconstruction of infrastructure could require "billions" of euros.
So far there is no assessment of the amount of damage to the region's infrastructure, although there is talk in the media of billions. In the 2013 floods, which were less dramatic but affected eight of the country's 16 "Länder", the Executive approved a special package of 8 billion euros.
The "Land" of Rhineland-Palatinate accounted for the highest number of fatalities - 110 - of the total of 156 confirmed in the west of the country. All of them occurred in the Ahrweiler region between the cities of Koblenz and Cologne, where the town of Schuld is located.
Merkel's visit was the second high-ranking visit to the regions hit by the floods, after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to the North Rhine-Westphalia region yesterday, Saturday. There he met with the regional Prime Minister and Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet.
The conservative Merkel and the Social Democrat Dreyer, a politician highly regarded by her fellow citizens, gave an image of cohesion in the face of the catastrophe. The regional leader - who suffers from multiple sclerosis and therefore has reduced mobility - walked for some stretches leaning on the Chancellor's arm, who also repeatedly expressed his support for her regional crisis management.
Together they spoke with firefighters, volunteers, soldiers and civil protection teams, they were interested in more technical aspects of their tasks - something usual for the chancellor - and they responded to a press conference that included uncomfortable questions from some citizens about the not so specific deficits of the region.
It was the counterpoint to the bad image left the day before by Laschet, who had to apologize on his twitter account for the uproar caused by images of him laughing in the background while the president expressed his dismay at the tragedy.
Laschet, a Chancellor hopeful for Merkel's conservative bloc, thus added another blip to his credibility. His handling of the worst moments of the pandemic had been erratic and even clashed with the Chancellor's cautious line in her haste to speed up the reopening of public life.
Water pressure has eased in western Germany, where there has been no significant rainfall since yesterday. In both Länder, debris removal and reinforcement of dykes and canals is underway, and basic services are being restored.
On the other hand, the situation has become more tense in Saxony (east) and Bavaria (south), where there have been some overflows after days of persistent rain and residents of some towns have been evacuated. In one town in Upper Bavaria, two fatalities have already been reported.
The floods of a few days ago in Belgium have left at least 31 dead and 163 missing, according to the latest data released Sunday by the federal crisis center.
Authorities encouraged citizens who have not yet had contact with their loved ones to inform the police as soon as possible. "If you have not heard from a family member, we invite you to contact the local police area that gathers information on missing persons," authorities said.
Although rescue operations in the various areas affected by the torrential rains and flooding have now been completed, searches are continuing.
In the town of Pepinster (in the Walloon region), where about a thousand people had to leave their homes, the rescue teams resumed work on Sunday to try to find victims, which takes place in very difficult conditions, by the risk of collapse of some buildings, reported the French-language radio RTBF.
Although in almost all Belgium the level of the waters has diminished in the last days after the floods, there are still zones in alert in the region of Wallonia, according to the data diffused today by the operational general direction of the Mobility and the Hydraulic Roads.
In Wallonia, the level of the Mehaigne river and its tributaries in the provinces of Liège and Namur continues to worry the authorities, who remain on alert. Just over 37,000 households are still without electricity in the provinces of Liège and Walloon Brabant.
In Flanders, some roads and houses are still under water in parts of Limburg and Flemish Brabant and it will take days for the situation to return to normal, according to the Flemish Environment Agency.
On the other hand, in view of the outpouring of solidarity, the authorities recommended Sunday that people who wish to help should register on the volunteer platform set up by the Red Cross or make a donation to the Red Cross account.