Germany-Belgium floods: Merkel says German language doesn’t have words for ‘surreal’ destruction

The death toll from the floods across Germany and Belgium currently stands at more than 180

Ella Glover
Sunday 18 July 2021 19:05
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Angela Merkel visits flood-hit area in Germany

Angela Merkel has described the floods that have wrought havoc in western Europe as “terrifying” and “surreal” on a visit to the disaster zone.

The chancellor cut short a trip to the US to see damage caused in the Rhineland-Palatinate region, where the death toll currently stands at around 112, on Sunday to witness the devastation for herself.

In the North Rhine-Westphalia area, Germany’s most populous area, some 46 people have been confirmed dead, including four firefighters.

Twenty-seven people have died in Belgium, bringing the total death toll above 180.

“It is shocking – I can almost say that the German language doesn’t have words for the destruction that’s been wreaked,” Ms Merkel said.

Following her visit, the chancellor also said Germany must “get faster in the battle against climate change,” with policies that pay “more regard to nature and the climate than we did in recent years.”

She said: “One flood isn’t the example of climate change, but if we look at the loss events of recent years, decades, then they are simply more frequent than they were previously — so we must make a great effort.”

Climate scientists say the link between extreme weather and global warming is unmistakable and the urgency to do something about climate change undeniable.

Scientists can’t yet say for sure whether climate change caused the flooding, but they insist that it certainly exacerbates the extreme weather disasters on display around the world.

Ms Merkel also pledged short-term relief to those affected by the floods, which will be launched by the government on Wednesday.

Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz has said that officials must begin setting up a rebuilding programme which is likely to cost billions of euros.

He told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he would propose a package of immediate aid, totalling at least €300m (£257m), at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

Economy minister Peter Altmaier also told the newspaper that there could be a €10,000 short-term payment for businesses affected by the impact of the floods as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Saturday night the waters began to spill over into Austria, where a flash flood swept through the town of Hallein, although no casualties were reported.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter that heavy rain and storms were causing serious damage in several parts of Austria.

He added: “I would like to thank all the emergency services and volunteers who do everything to help! We will not leave those affected alone and support them in rebuilding.”

Meanwhile, scientists have warned that the floods are an indication that “even the most developed countries” are unprepared for the fight against climate change.

Dr Liz Stephens, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading, said: “The flooding in Europe is a sobering demonstration of how even the most developed countries are not prepared for the impacts of climate change.

“Intense summer rainfall events are expected to occur more frequently under climate change, and national and local governments need to wake up to the danger and make sure that appropriate measures are taken to avoid the unacceptable number of fatalities that have been reported from this event.

“The floods in London earlier this week provide a warning that we are not immune to these kinds of flood impacts in the UK and should learn our own lessons from this disaster.”

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