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Chancellor Merkel praises volunteers, pledges more aid for flood victims

The situation in parts of Germany affected by major flooding remains tense, although in some areas, water levels have begun to recede slightly. Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged more state aid for the victims.

Chancellor Merkel on Monday praised the thousands of people who have been working around the clock to help cope with the flooding that has forced tens of thousands of others to evacuate their homes.

"One can be rather proud of our country when one sees how the people are pulling together in such a difficult hour," Merkel said during a visit to Wittenberge on the Elbe River in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where she stopped to speak to volunteers filling sandbags.

Around 70,000 firefighters and 11,000 Bundeswehr soldiers, along with civilian volunteers, have been mobilized around the country working to protect settlements, dams and other key facilities.

The chancellor also pledged more aid to those affected by the worst flooding in decades, saying the federal government would not leave them in the lurch. However, she declined to go into detail, saying this would be discussed with the premiers of Germany's 16 states at a meeting to be held on Thursday.

Watch video 01:51

Chancellor Merkel surveys flood-hit Wittenberge

"We know of course that the damage will be in the billions," said Merkel, who was accompanied by Brandenburg Premier Matthias Platzeck.

In Wittenberge, though, experts feared that the worst was still to come, with the flooding expected to crest sometime on Tuesday. Parts of the town have already been evacuated. Several towns farther downstream, such as Lauenberg and Hitzacker were also bracing for the worst.

Water levels recede to the south

To the south, the situation around the capital of the neighboring state of Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg, stabilized somewhat on Monday, after a dike had burst overnight, forcing several hundred more people from their homes. Officials said the water level around Magdeburg had fallen steadily throughout the day, but at the same time they warned that the threat was not over.

"There's a slight gasp of relief but still no relaxation," Klaus Puchta, a member of Magdeburg's city council said.

The authorities had advised more than 20,000 Magdeburg residents to leave their homes over the weekend, with precautionary evacuations affected more than double that number across the state.

Major train lines disrupted

The bursting of the dike at Fischbeck on Sunday night also had implications for travelers across Germany. After a key bridge had to be closed, Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national passenger rail service was forced to divert trains travelling between Berlin and Cologne or Frankfurt throughout the day, causing major delays.

Weeks of heavy rain this spring has caused heavy flooding not just in northeastern and southern Germany, but also parts of the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. At least 19 deaths have been attributed to the floods.

pfd/ipj (EPD, AFP, dpa, AP)

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