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Germany needs better climate policy, Merkel says

July 18, 2021

The death toll following the devastating flooding in western Germany has risen above 150. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany will "stand up to this force of nature."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (center) und Malu Dreyer (holding Merkel's hand) assess flood damage in Schuld, Germany
Image: Christof Stache/AFP/dpa/picture alliance
  • More than 150 people have been reported dead across western Germany, with more fatalities across Europe
  • Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed in the rescue effort
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the municipality of Schuld, says damage is 'surreal'
  • The flooding has also impacted eastern Germany and Austria

This article was last updated at 22:22 UTC

Questions raised over Germany's flood warning system

Hannah Cloke, hydrology expert and professor at Reading University, told public broadcaster ZDF that there had been warnings about the extreme rains days before they hit. 

But the warning chain "broke" somewhere along the way and the warnings did not reach everyone.

A spokesperson for the German Meteorological Service (DWD) defended its role saying the agency had "done what it was supposed to do."

The DWD warned local authorities of the expected weather pattern, but often these messages were not passed on, the spokesperson told ZDF.

In Germany, local districts are responsible for deciding relevant measures, not the DWD. Cloke said that a unified, national approach was necessary, adding that local authorities often lack the necessary resources to properly deal with such issues.

Gesture of support from Tel Aviv

The city hall of the Israeli capital Tel Aviv lit up in the colors of the German flag — black, red and gold — on Sunday to show support for those "affected by the devastating floods."

The mayor of the city shared a photo of the building over Twitter.

Anger over post-flooding looters

Police detained three people in the town of Eschweiler near the western German city of Aachen. They were charged with looting in one of the areas badly hit by the flooding.

Armin Laschet, State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia where the town is located, said on Sunday that he was "furious" to hear "that people are returning to their devastated homes to find that looters have stolen what little they have left."

His comments came during an interview with public broadcaster WDR.

Laschet: Rebuilding could take years

Armin Laschet, the State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) told public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk on Sunday that "a catastrophe on a national scale requires a swift national response."

He said that he was working with colleagues on the state and national level to work out exactly what that response would be. But he also warned that the "rebuilding will take months, if not years."

Laschet hopes to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor in September. During the interview, he laid out what he considers necessary to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic flooding.

"We have to build dams, retention basins, reservoirs, to renaturalize land —  protection not just along the Rhine, but also on the large and many small rivers all over the country," he told the broadcaster.

Police contact 700 missing persons

Cologne police said in a statement on Sunday that they had managed to reach 700 people who had been declared missing. There are now just 150 people who they have not yet been able to get hold of in the regions around Cologne and Bonn.

While looters had not proved to be a problem in the wake of the flooding, the police statement called for "catastrophe tourists" and onlookers to avoid the affected areas, saying that they were hindering rescue efforts.

The police also found another body in the Rheinbach district, the statement said.

'There are so many dead'

With the cleanup effort underway, many survivors still do not know if they will ever be able to return to their homes.

Flood survivor Vera David told DW that she spent over 24 hours waiting for the rescuers on the top floor of her now ruined home. When firefighters reached her group, they told them they would "have to manage" on their own.

"There are so many dead. It is unbelievable," she told DW.

Weather service predicts heavy rain in Bavaria

The German Meteorological Service (DWD) warned of continued heavy rains in southeastern Bavaria for Sunday evening into Monday morning. Although the rain is expected to die down, the service said it could not rule out flooding in some local areas.

The DWD expected water levels to rise in the city of Passau on the Austrian border, where the Inn and Ilz rivers feed into the Danube.

Two men attach metal panels to the doors of a building. In the background, the water from the river is already covering part of the street.
The rivers in Passau have already burst their banks putting some of the city's streets under waterImage: Markus Zechbauer/dpa/zema-medien/picture alliance

Local radio broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk also reported flood risk warnings for the Bavarian capital Munich and the surrounding areas.

Government promises millions in aid

Germany's Finance Minister Olaf Scholz pledged immediate federal support of around €400 million ($472 million), based on the amount provided during previous floods.

"We're ready to do our part," he said, according to public broadcaster ARD.

He had already said that more than €300 million would be needed immediately for people affected by the flooding in western Germany. The long-term costs could reach billions, he added.

He also highlighted the importance of developing a climate neutral industry in Germany to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe.

The full-scale of the damage caused by the flooding in Bavaria on Saturday is not yet known.

A billboard rises above floodwater in Bavaria
Floods affected the southern state of Bavaria somewhat less than Germany's northwestImage: Bernd März/imago images

German railways, roads damaged by floods

German rail carrier Deutsche Bahn (DB) has said over 600 kilometers of tracks were damaged and 80 stops in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Rhineland-Palatinate have also been affected by water, mud and debris. Around 2,000 DB employees in the region have been working around the clock since Wednesday, the report added.

DB said it expects long-distance services to return to normal for destinations in NRW at the start of the new week, but warned that commuters must still prepare for considerable restrictions.

Bavarian leader praises 'superhuman' rescuers

Bavarian Premier Markus Söder tweeted pictures during his visit to the region of Berchtesgadener Land. The conservative politician made the visit alongside the chancellor candidate for the German socialist party (SPD), Olaf Scholz.

"Within a few seconds people lost everything — first in the west and now here. Rapid help is needed in this crisis. Many thanks to all the rescue crews, you've done superhuman work," Söder wrote in his tweet.

Söder: Doing nothing against climate change is expensive

Premier Söder pledged to provide support for those affected by the flooding in the southeastern part of the state during a visit to the affected area on Sunday afternoon.

Speaking in the town of Schönau am Königssee, Söder told reporters that the situation in Bavaria was "very, very bad" albeit not on the same scale as the "catastrophe" in western Germany. "We won't leave anyone behind," he promised.

The leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) also warned that Germany must accelerate its program of climate protection and adaptation. While such steps may be expensive, "in the end of the costs of not doing anything, are much higher," Söder said.

Merkel says flood damage is 'terrifying'

After arriving the town of Schuld, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation in the flooded regions as "surreal" and "terrifying." She pledged quick financial aid.

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

"We have to hurry up, we have to speed up the fight against climate change," Merkel said.

Merkel vows to 'counteract this natural disaster'

What is needed is a policy "that takes nature and the climate more into consideration than we have have done in recent years," she said.

The chancellor also called on citizens for monetary donations for the affected communities.

Football fans help with the cleanup

While rescuers still look for survivors, both local residents and volunteers from other parts of Germany are taking part in the cleanup process. Around 200 football fans from Cologne traveled to the region over the weekend to help clear the rubble, says DW's Kate Brady. 

Some locals skeptical of Merkel visit

Merkel and the Rhineland-Palatinate State Premier Malu Dreyer have vowed close coordination between Germany's federal and state governments. 

"Because we can't do this alone," Dreyer said in a joint conversation with relief workers in Schuld. "It is quite great that the German chancellor is here today." The willingness of the local population to help is very great, she added.

Earlier, Merkel also visited the flood-hit region of Ahrweiler for the first time after returning from her final official visit to the United States.

DW's Giulia Saudelli reports that some locals opted to make sandwiches for volunteers rather than watch the chancellor's walkabout.

Angela Merkel in Schuld
The chancellor went on a walkabout talking to locals upon her arrival in SchuldImage: Christof Stache/dpa/AFP/picture alliance

"There is also a bit of skepticism here," our correspondent says. "Some people I spoke to said they think it's more of a picture opportunity for the election campaign, rather than a visit that will actually bring something."

"Others are happy for this support. But what everyone tells me is that they want this support to last in the long term."

German Olympic team remembers flood victims

The German Olympic team, made up of 80 athletes, held a minute of silence on Sunday to remember those who lost their lives in  the flooding disaster at their base in Tokyo.

The German Olympics Sports Confederation, known by its German acronym DOSB, has already earmarked  €100,000 ($118,000) in emergency funding.

"The floods are also significantly hurting sports clubs in the affected areas," said DOSB President Alfons Hörmann on Friday.

The DOSB has launched an appeal to try and raise more money for the victims.

DW's Giulia Saudelli is in Schuld as Merkel arrives

Pope Francis prays for European flood victims

The pope appeared at St Peter's Square to bless Sunday worshippers for the first time since recovering from colon surgery two weeks ago.

The 84-year-old pontiff used his 14-minute address to pray for the people of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands who were hit hardest.

"May the Lord receive the deceased and comfort the families," the Catholic leader told a crowd of hundreds of faithful outside the Vatican.

Floods bring famous Belgian chocolate factory to halt

One of Belgium's most famous chocolate factories is out of action.

The Galler plant in Vaux-sous-Chevremont just outside Liege supplies the royal court of Philippe, the King of the Belgians.
It has ground to a halt after a week of torrential rains swept through production lines, damaging machines and destroying ingredients.

"The priority now is to secure the factory and to get the electricity back on," said Valerie Stefenatto, the 32-year-old communications manager.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Galler pumped out 1,700 tonnes of chocolate every year.

German insurers want rethink on climate change

Germany's insurance industry has called on the country's politicians to re-examine their policies on climate change after the devastating floods. "In many places, adaptation to the consequences of climate change is being neglected," Joerg Asmussen, managing director of the German Insurance Association (GDV), told the Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Asmussen said buildings are still being erected in high-risk areas and there is a lack of investment in preventative measures. "We have to change course here, otherwise a spiral of further catastrophes and increasing damage will be set in motion, which will first become expensive and then at some point unaffordable," he was quoted by the weekly newspaper as saying.

Israeli president offers support to Germany 

New Israeli president Issac Herzog has written to his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to express "our friendship and support of the German people in this time of destruction and loss."

Aides to President Herzog said he told Steinmeier that "Israel is a partner in any effort or initiative aimed at addressing this urgent challenge (of climate change)."

Nearly 60 people still missing in Erftstadt

The town of Erftstadt, west of Cologne, remains closed off after some of the worst floods in living memory.

Several residents are still waiting for news of their loved ones as authorities report that 59 people are still unaccounted for.

A spokesman for the Rhine-Erft district told the WDR broadcaster on Sunday that the breakdown of the local telephone network may explain why some people have been unable to be contacted.

Bavaria evacuation attributed to geology

As many as 130 people were evacuated from their homes in the Bavarian district of Berchtesgadener Land close to the Austrian border in southern Germany.

Officials told 80 people from Schönau am Königssee to leave their houses. District administrator Berhard Kern said the order was given due to "geological problems", but the Christian Social Union politician gave no further details. He added that roads in and around the area are "extremely badly affected" by the rising water levels. 

Battle against flood 'devastation' in Schuld

DW's Giulia Saudelli is reporting on the ground in the flood-hit village of Schuld, which has seen large areas destroyed by the extreme weather.

"One can see the devastation and destruction that the water has brought through the town," our correspondent says.

"Some of the houses that were closer to the river have been completely swept away. Houses futher back away from the water are destroyed up to the second floor; some are completely gutted and filled with mud and debris," she reports.

Schuld, which has a population of just over 700 people, is in Germany's Eifel region close to the border with Belgium.

DW reports on flooding in Schuld, Germany

Residents in Ahr 'trapped' by geography

At the center of the floods is the Eifel region, a low mountain range that stretches across eastern Belgium and western Germany, bordering the Rhine and Mosel rivers. In Germany, the Eifel lies in both federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.

A map showing areas affected by flooding In Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, including Schuld in the Eifel region

The area is home to usually gentle, picturesque rivers that run through the towns. These are the rivers that burst their banks, flooding and laying to waste entire villages.

Heavy rain in such mountainous terrain is particularly dangerous because water collects in the valleys instead of spreading evenly across other surfaces. This is what happened in the Ahr region, a particularly narrow valley, where a sudden rise in water levels would leave residents with little chance to escape the flood.

The small towns affected in the Eifel area benefit mainly from tourist economic activity, which had slowed down significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The floods are likely to be a terrible setback for the region.

Aerial view of the damage

Before and after footage of the Ahr valley show just how much water was carried by the small river, spilling into the entire town and the dramatic devastation that followed.

Aerial view of Altenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate, showing mass flooding and houses engulfed in water
Image: Polizei /dpa/picture alliance
Aerial view of Altenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate, before the town was affected by flooding
Image: Gerhard Launer/euroluftbild/ZB/picture alliance

For more before and after shots, click here.

Grand Prix becomes help center

Germany's oldest Grand Prix race track has been turned into a provisional center to help the victims of the recent floods. 

Thousands of motor sports fans had marked July 15 to 17 in their diaries for the ADAC Truck Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.     

Ferry, a Dutchman who has worked at the event as an attendant in recent years, decided to stay on to help when the floods struck. Oliver Pieper reports from the scene.

German floods leave behind trail of devastation

German opposition slam 'laughing' Laschet

Opposition parties have hit out at Armin Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, who hopes to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in September's election.

The Christian Democratic (CDU) candidate was filmed making a joke with aides during his visit to flood-hit areas of western Germany, sparking fierce criticism. "The way Armin Laschet is joking around in the background while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is speaking to victims is without decency and outrageous," Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the Social Democrats (SPD), told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"They say that in times of crisis, one's true character reveals itself," he said, concluding that Laschet had "disqualified himself."

The Social Democrats are currently in coalition with the conservative CDU, but running against them in the September 26 poll.

The economic liberal Free Democrat (FDP) party also attacked Laschet in the same paper, with deputy parliamentary leader Michael Theurer saying that "fooling around without a mask while the president remembers the victims does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation." Laschet apologized on Saturday evening, calling his conduct "inappropriate."

Cities and municipalities call for reforms

Germany's Association of Cities and Municipalities (DGsTB), a group that represents the interests of local authorities, has said there needs to be fundamental reform when it comes to protection from potential natural disasters.

"The disaster shows once again that we need to reorganize civil protection in a new, better and more sustainable way," said DStGB chief executive Gerd Landsberg in an interview with the Funke Mediengruppe.

The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance must be strengthened and early warning systems improved, he said.

Germany floods death toll rises to 156

The number of people who have died in the extreme flooding in Germany has risen to 156, authorities say.

Koblenz police said on Sunday that another 12 bodies had been found in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate overnight, bringing the number of fatalities there to 110.

Officials in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia reported 45 deaths by late Saturday evening.

At least one person is now known to have died in floods in the Bavarian district of Berchtesgadener Land, close to the border with Austria and the city of Salzburg.

Austria's Kurz lauds emergency services

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz praised the country's emergency services after it, too, was hit by extreme weather.

"Heavy rains and storms are unfortunately causing severe damage in many places in Austria," Kurz wrote on Twitter.

"I would like to thank all the emergency services and volunteers who are doing everything to help! We will not leave those affected alone and support them in rebuilding," he said.

A flash flood swept through the town of Hallein, near the German border, late Saturday.

Berlin promises help for flood victims

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, along with Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, has promised help to victims of the flooding, according to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Scholz told the newspaper he will propose several assistance measures to other cabinet members next week.

He said an amount "significantly higher" than €300 million ($354 million) in emergency aid would be needed for the victims of the flooding.

Floods also hit eastern Germany, Austria

The floods are hitting not only western Germany, but also other parts of the country. 

Hard rainfall in the eastern German state of Saxony has caused flooding in a region called Saxon Switzerland, which is located southeast of the major city of Dresden. The hilly area around the Elbe valley is a popular tourist destination.

Floods in Belgium

Bavaria district declares disaster

The Berchtesgadener Land district of Germany's Upper Bavaria on Saturday night declared a disaster situation due to flooding. 

Two deaths were reported although it was initially unclear whether these were related to the floods, a spokesperson said.