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Germany’s Angela Merkel faces questions about flood response as she visits disaster area

German officials were under increasing pressure on Tuesday to explain why one of Europe’s richest countries was apparently unprepared for the catastrophic floods that have so far claimed the lives of nearly 200 people and left hundreds others missing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will make her second visit on Tuesday to an area affected by flooding – the historic spa town of Bad Münstereifel, about 32 km southwest of Bonn.

The normally popular tourist spot with its traditional black-and-white buildings and cobbled streets disappeared after months of rain falling within 24 hours from Thursday to Friday.

The flood toll in Germany stands at 197, with at least 300 missing and 749 injured, according to police and regional governments concerned.

People watch debris in the pedestrian zone of Bad Muenstereifel in western Germany on Friday after heavy rains hit parts of the country causing widespread flooding.Ina Fassbender / AFP – Getty Images

But the death toll is expected to rise as rescue and mop-up operations continue in western Germany, as well as parts of neighboring Belgium, where at least 31 people have died and dozens are missing. .

Belgium held a national day of mourning Tuesday in honor of the dead, some of whom were killed when a dozen houses along a river collapsed in the town of Pepinster, in the east of the country. Thousands of people in the Netherlands were forced to evacuate last week after water broke through flood defenses in the south of the country.

Merkel visited the town of Schuld on Sunday, where she warned the flooding was linked to climate change.

“The German language knows few words to describe the devastation that has been caused here,” she said during a speech there.

The death toll has raised questions as to why so many appeared to have been surprised by flash floods, with opposition politicians suggesting the death toll revealed serious shortcomings in flood preparedness in Germany.

Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, responding to criticism during a visit to Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweile, defended the system, in which the German National Meteorological Service issues warnings to each of the 16 German states and from there to the districts and communities, which then decide at a local level how to respond.

“It would be totally inconceivable for such a disaster to be managed centrally from one place,” Seehofer told reporters on Monday. “You need local knowledge. “

People pick up debris in the pedestrian zone of Bad Muenstereifel in western Germany on Friday after heavy rains hit parts of the country causing widespread flooding.Ina Fassbender / AFP – Getty Images

Seehofer, however, called on all layers of German government – local, state and federal – to work together in the future and admitted that things could be improved.

“I do not exclude the fact that we have to improve one thing or the other,” he said, according to the German news agency DPA.

The DWD weather service warned Monday, July 12 that heavy rain was heading towards western Germany and flooding was very likely. On Wednesday morning, he said the risk of flooding was increasing and called on the population to seek advice from local authorities.

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Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the Bild newspaper on Monday: “We will have to see if there are things that went wrong, if there were things that went wrong, and then they must be corrected. “

Meanwhile, a regional government has pointed to another problem: the Covid-19.

“Right now, a lot of people are coming together in a very small space to overcome the crisis together. We now have to be careful that dealing with the disaster does not turn into a super-widespread event,” David Freichel, spokesperson. word of the Rhineland-Palatinate state management office told the RND newspaper network.

Carlo Angerer reported from Bonn, Patrick Smith reported from London.

Carlo Angerer and Reuters contributed.

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