Rebuilding Germany's flooded areas will cost billions, Seehofer says

Photo: EPA

The cost of rebuilding the flooded communities in western Germany will run into the billions of euros, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Monday, as the country's death toll topped more than 160 and the search for some still missing went on, dpa reported. The flooding of the Ahr tributary devastated communities in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where the number of people confirmed to have died has notched up to 117. In neighbouring North Rhine Westphalia, the number of dead stood at 47.

Hundreds were injured and others are reported missing, although it is not known exactly how many as communications in the region are still poor. Some 30,000 people in western Germany remain without electricity after last week's severe weather.

Across the border in Belgium, over 30 people died.

A reconstruction fund is in the works and would be discussed as soon as the damage is assessed,Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

The floods did around 2 billion euros worth of damage to the region's road and rail network, government sources told dpa on Monday.

"This is an exceptional situation that we can only overcome with hard work here and with a huge national effort," Seehofer said in the hard-hit Rhineland-Palatinate town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

However, Seehofer and the federal Interior Ministry have come under criticism as people start to ask what could have prevented the destruction and say the population had not been warned early enough.

In the German federal system, it is up to the districts and state governments to decide whether to declare a disaster or to call in additional emergency forces - a structure that Seehofer defended.

"Centralism does not improve anything here," he said. Among other things, local knowledge was necessary, he said, though he added that discussions about where improvements could be made and where there could be more cooperation would happen after aid was given out.

Seehofer also visited emergency forces in North Rhine Westphalia at the Steinbach Dam, which has been at risk of breaking for days. As a precaution, parts of the towns of Swisttal and Rheinbach, just below the Steinbach Dam on the border with Rhineland-Palatinate, have been evacuated.

Businesses in western Germany were also affected by the floods. Car parts supplier ZF, energy firm RWE and copper recycling company Aurubis were among the large businesses that had to stop or reduce production due to the floods.

The floods have restarted a climate debate in Germany, and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder has called for more efforts in climate protection. "We already need a climate shift in Germany," he told broadcasters ARD on Monday. Soeder stressed climate protection is not an ideological question, but a matter of reason and ethics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit affected areas in North Rhine Westphalia along with Armin Laschet, the state's premier and Merkel's potential successor as chancellor, on Tuesday. During her visit to some of the worst hit areas in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, Merkel promised more efforts to protect people from the effects of climate change and said policies needed to take greater account of this than in the past.

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