Merkel visits areas devastated by 'terrifying' floods as death toll reaches 190 in Europe

·3-min read

Chancellor Angela Merkel visited flood-ravaged areas of Germany on Sunday to survey the damage and meet survivors after days of extreme rainfall in western Europe left at least 190 people dead and dozens missing.

Merkel travelled to the village of Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate state, one of the two hardest-hit regions in western Germany where the swollen Ahr river swept away houses and left debris piled high in the streets.

"We are by your side," Merkel told residents of the small town Adenau, calling the situation there "terrifying".

The chancellor said she was overwhelmed by the "surreal, eerie" devastation she had seen.

"It is shocking – I can almost say that the German language doesn't have words for the destruction that has been unleashed," she told reporters.

Merkel also pledged that a short-term relief programme would be launched by the government on Wednesday and said the devastation underscored the importance of combating climate change, saying: We "must hurry".

At least 160 people have died since Wednesday in Germany's worst flooding in living memory, police said.

At least 31 people have also lost their lives in neighbouring Belgium, officials said Sunday.

Rescue crews in both countries were sifting through rubble to find victims, often in dangerous conditions.

The historic downpours also battered Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

As the waters began to recede in Rhineland-Palatinate and neighbouring North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), concern shifted south to Germany's Upper Bavaria region, where heavy rains inundated basements and swelled rivers and creeks late Saturday.

One person died in Berchtesgadener Land, a spokeswoman for the Bavarian district told AFP.

In Austria, emergency workers in the Salzburg and Tyrol regions were on high alert for flooding. The historic town centre of Hallein, near the German frontier, was under water.

"Heavy rains and storms are unfortunately causing severe damage in several places in Austria," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter.

Merkel has called the floods a "tragedy" and pledged support from the federal government for Germany's stricken municipalities.

Speaking alongside US President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday, Merkel said her "heart goes out to all of those who in this catastrophe lost their loved ones".

The government has said it is working to set up a special aid fund, with the cost of damage expected to reach several billion euros.

'I've never seen anything like it'

The scale of the flood impact was gradually becoming clear in Germany, with damaged buildings being assessed, some of which will have to be demolished, and efforts under way to restore gas, electricity and telephone services.

In some areas, soldiers used armoured vehicles to clear the debris clogging streets.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, divers were sent in to search submerged homes and vehicles.

Local authorities in NRW and Rhineland-Palatinate said dozens of people remain unaccounted for across both states.

They have stressed, however, that disruption to communication networks made a precise assessment difficult, and the real number of missing could be lower.

Roger Lewentz, interior minister for Rhineland-Palatinate, said more than 670 people were injured.

"I've lived here my whole life, I was born here, and I've never seen anything like it," said Gregor Degen, a baker in the devastated spa town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler near Schuld.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo visited the flooded areas of Rochefort and Pepinster together on Saturday.

"Europe is with you," von der Leyen tweeted afterwards. "We are with you in mourning and we will be with you in rebuilding."

Belgium has declared Tuesday a day of official mourning.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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