Merkel describes German flood devastation as ‘terrifying’

Al Jazeera – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the flooding that ravaged parts of her country as “surreal” and “terrifying”, as the death toll from floods in Western Europe climbed above 180 with dozens still missing.

 

Merkel promised on Sunday swift financial aid after visiting one of the areas worst affected by the record rainfall and floods that have killed at least 157 people in Germany alone in recent days, in the country’s worst natural disaster in almost six decades.

 

“It is 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 barely describe the devastation that’s taken place.”

 

“Germany is a strong country,” Merkel said. “We will stand up to this force of nature in the short term, but also in the medium and long term.”

 

Merkel toured Schuld, a village on a tight curve of the Ahr River in western Germany where many buildings were damaged or destroyed by rapidly rising floodwaters on Wednesday night. Authorities said some people are still missing and they fear the toll may still rise.

 

She also called for a redoubling of political focus on curbing climate change. “We have to hurry up, we have to speed up the fight against climate change,” Merkel said.

 

Focus has now shifted to southern Germany and neighbouring Austria, which remain on alert amid heavy rains.

 

Roads were turned into rivers, some vehicles were swept away and swaths of land were buried under thick mud in Berchtesgadener Land in southern Germany. Hundreds of rescue workers were searching for survivors in the district which borders Austria.

 

In the Austrian region of Salzburg, powerful floodwaters tore through the town centre on Saturday evening as the Kothbach river burst its banks, but no injuries were reported.

 

Parts of Switzerland remained on flood alert, though the threat posed by some of the most at-risk bodies of water like Lake Lucerne and Bern’s Aare river has eased.

The European floods, which began on Wednesday, have mainly hit the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as parts of Belgium. Entire communities have been cut off, without power or communications.

 

In the North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 46 people were killed, including four firefighters. Belgium confirmed 27 deaths.

 

The German government will be readying more than 300 million euros ($354m) in immediate relief and billions of euros to fix collapsed houses, streets and bridges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

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