On a visit to the hard-hit town of Bad Muenstereifel, whose scenic medieval centre was long a major tourist draw, the veteran leader pledged a thorough review of vulnerabilities in the system.
“This was flooding that surpassed our imagination when you see the destruction it wrought” despite last week’s forecasts of torrential downpours, Merkel insisted.
“We have a very good warning system,” she said as a few people in the crowd whistled in derision.
“Now we’ve got to look at what worked and what didn’t work, without forgetting that this was flooding as we haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
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She quoted the town’s mayor who said the deluge was unmatched in 700 years of records.
Merkel also paid tributes to the victims of the floods and said she was encouraged by the solidarity she’d seen in flood-ravaged areas.
"We've been meeting people who lost everything."
After the flood disaster, Angela Merkel expresses her condolences to those affected and promises swift financial support. pic.twitter.com/F0ZMuYmgBf
— DW Politics (@dw_politics) July 20, 2021
Two states – Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia – in western Germany were hit over two days last week, with rushing water sweeping away trees, cars and bridges and destroying homes, businesses and vital infrastructure.
Merkel pledged finanical support to victims. She said every effort will be made “to ensure that the money gets to the people quickly. I hope that this is a matter of days.”
Were residents warned in time?
As the scale of the flood disaster became clearer, questions mounted about whether enough was done to warn residents ahead of time.
“In the worst flood disaster in nearly 60 years in Germany, with at least 165 deaths, disaster management failed to warn citizens,” wrote Bild newspaper in a damning report.
“Barely functioning sirens, no early evacuations and data protection prevented warning text messages to all affected citizens.”
Merkel said that under Germany’s federal system, the Weather Service and the Federal Office for Population and Disaster Protection had passed on information quickly to local governments but that they were unable to evacuate people ahead of the rapidly rising waters.
“You can debate for a long time about the warning mechanisms,” Merkel said, while stressing that country’s mobile phone app Nina had worked as planned in the face of the impending disaster.
She said that while those whose homes still had WiFi received warning messages, many who were out as mobile phone networks collapsed were deprived of emergency information.
“Perhaps the good old siren is more useful than we thought,” she said.
The total number of deaths in Europe stands at least 200.