Merkel heads to flood zone amid questions about preparedness

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BERLIN, July 20 (Reuters) – German authorities were increasingly criticized on Tuesday by the deadly floods that engulfed much of the country last week, leaving Europe’s richest economy caught off guard by a catastrophe that had been predicted a few days before.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the disaster area for the second time, growing questions have arisen about the preparedness of local and national authorities for the floods that swept through defenseless towns and villages last week.

“There were warnings about the masses of debris and flood waters rolling towards these people and these warnings were not at all dealt with the way these warnings should have been,” said Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of Bild, Germany’s largest circulation newspaper, in a statement. round table online.

With the country around 10 weeks away from national elections, flooding has put German leaders’ crisis-management skills on the agenda, with opposition politicians suggesting death toll revealed serious shortcomings in preparedness to flooding.

“For some of the people who live here it means a terrible situation, many houses are uninhabitable,” Merkel said during her visit. “The only consolation is the solidarity of the people.”

The floods killed more than 160 people in Germany, devastating villages, washing away homes, roads and bridges and highlighting gaps in the way severe weather warnings are conveyed to the public.

Government officials rejected suggestions they had done too little to prepare and said the warning systems had worked. The parliamentary home affairs committee is due to meet next week to discuss how well the systems work. Read more

Several experts said the unprecedented scale of the flooding meant that existing flood defenses would inevitably be overwhelmed. But critics pointed to failures in warning sirens, delayed evacuations, and spotty cell phone warning systems that were limited in effectiveness due to the drop in networks and data protection concerns.

In addition, in Germany’s decentralized system, the responsibility for disaster protection is shared between the federal government and regional and local authorities, so the answer may vary from city to city.

Calls have also been made for greater public awareness of the risks of severe flooding.

“Well-prepared and risk-aware citizens are more valuable than any state welfare system,” said Armin Schuster, head of BBK, the federal agency for civil protection and disaster relief. .

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Almost 20 years after the re-election of former center-left Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, largely thanks to his confident handling of severe flooding in East Germany, disaster has inevitably cast a shadow over the next ballot.

A public opinion poll carried out since the flooding began last week showed a slight gain for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU). But Armin Laschet, the prime minister of the state proposed by the party to succeed him as chancellor saw his own approval stamped after he was filmed laughing as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited one of the areas. floodable.

The financial cost of Germany’s worst natural disaster in nearly 60 years will also weigh heavily on the next government.

On top of the unprecedented spending on coronavirus relief measures, the cost is sure to run into the billions. Bavarian Environment Minister Thorsten Glauber has said his southern state will spend 40 billion euros on flood defense over the next 20 years.

For immediate relief, the federal government plans to provide 200 million euros ($ 236 million) in emergency aid to repair damaged local buildings and infrastructure, and to help people in crisis, showed a draft document, which must be submitted to the cabinet on Wednesday.

This will be added to the 200 million euros that would come from the 16 Länder. The government is also hoping for financial support from the European Union solidarity fund.

($ 1 = € 0.8487)

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Editing by Giles Elgood

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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