September 27, 2021

Floods: at least 190 dead in Europe, Angela Merkel at the bedside of the victims

Angela Merkel discovered, Sunday, July 18, the devastated landscapes left by the devastating floods in Western Europe, which killed at least 190 people in Germany and Belgium, a toll that is growing every day, many people being still missing.

The German Chancellor, who was visiting Washington on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, at the time of the deadly floods, arrived Sunday at midday in Rhineland-Palatinate, in southwestern Germany, the one of the worst affected regions, where 112 people have died out of a total of 159 in the country.

Looking grave, Angela Merkel began to take stock of the disaster that hit the village of Schuld, not far from Bonn. The Ahr river destroyed a good part of the locality.

‘It’s a surreal and ghostly situation, I would almost say that the German language is struggling to find the words to describe the devastation that has been caused,’ the leader told a press conference.

‘Adding up all the events we are witnessing in Germany and the force with which they are occurring, all of this suggests (…) that this has some connection with climate change,’ the Chancellor said, adding that the ‘Germany had to’ hurry, we have to be faster in the fight against climate change ‘.

Angela Merkel also pledged the state’s commitment to help with reconstruction. From Wednesday, emergency aid of at least 300 million euros will be presented to the Council of Ministers, before a vast reconstruction program of several billion euros, according to the Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz.

An assessment still provisional

In the regional state of Rhineland-Palatinate alone, the local police reported 110 dead in a statement, against 98 in the previous report. ‘It is feared that other victims will be added,’ said police, also speaking of at least 670 people injured in this area alone.

If the trend is decreasing in the most affected area, the situation is deteriorating further south, on the border between Germany and Austria.

Due to heavy localized rains, floods are reported in this area and left one dead on the German side, local police said overnight from Saturday to Sunday.

A ‘disaster plan’ has been decreed in the German district of Berchtesgaden and several hundred firefighters are deployed.

End of rescue operations in Belgium

For its part, Belgium, which is due to observe a day of national mourning on Tuesday, has recorded at least 31 dead, according to an official report published on Sunday evening by the authorities, who announced the end of the rescue operations.

‘The danger is no longer imminent in the affected areas. The rescue operations are over but search operations are still underway in a number of areas, ‘the Belgian crisis center said in a statement on Sunday evening.

Austria on alert

In Austria, firefighters are on high alert in the Salzburg and Tyrol regions, while the old town of Hallein is under water.

‘Heavy rains and storms are unfortunately causing severe damage in several places in Austria,’ Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz tweeted.

Finally, further east, on the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, rivers also rose in the Germanic region of Saxony on Saturday evening, causing damage.

It is in this still tense context that Chancellor Angela Merkel has planned to meet the inhabitants of Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate, in the west of the country, a village described as a ‘martyr’: almost everything has been destroyed there by the midweek floods.

As rescuers continue to search for dozens of people still missing in the country and in Belgium, she should pledge state aid for reconstruction. A government aid plan of probably several billion euros is in preparation.

The European Union also assured of its support in the face of these bad weather, which also affected the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

‘We Europeans stand with you at this difficult time with all our hearts,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Belgium on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of Germans are affected by the destruction of their homes or by cuts in electricity, gas or telephone lines. Not to mention the gutted roads, sunken bridges and cities under the rubble.

False step of the probable successor of Angela Merkel

The floods in Germany took a political turn just over two months before the general elections, after which Angela Merkel will step down. Each candidate competes for proposals to strengthen the fight against global warming, the cause of flooding for many experts.

But the favorite to succeed the Chancellor, the conservative Armin Laschet, made a misstep on Saturday detrimental to his image, by being filmed laughing during a tribute by the Head of State to the victims of the floods. ‘Laschet laughs while the country suffers,’ writes Bild, Germany’s most widely read newspaper.

The images have gone viral, with national outrage forcing him to apologize for his ‘inappropriate’ behavior. The controversy has grown even more important as Armin Laschet is also the leader of one of the two regions most affected by the floods, North Rhine-Westphalia.

In all the affected localities, firefighters, civil protection, municipal officials and soldiers have begun the colossal work of clearing and cleaning up the piles of muddy debris which often obstruct the streets. More than 22,000 rescuers are hard at work.

‘It’s a horror scenario,’ comments Michael Kossytorz in the devastated town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, noting the damage. Unusual scene, army tanks were even deployed in some places to aid in the efforts.