This article was last updated at 23:50 UTC
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, along with Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, have promised help to victims of the flooding, according to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Scholz told the newspaper he will propose several assistance measures to other cabinet members next week.
He said an amount “significantly higher” than €300 million ($354 million) in emergency aid would be needed for the victims of the flooding. He also said billions of euros should be spent on repairing infrastructure that was damaged by the flood, such as destroyed houses, roads and bridges.
“We have to stand together as a country and help the flood victims quickly, generously and in an unbureaucratic fashion,” he said.
In addition, Altmaier proposed assistance of up to €10,000 for individual businesses severely impacted by the flooding and the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, he expects that some of the damages to these businesses will be paid by insurance companies.
The floods are hitting not only western Germany, but also other parts of the country.
Hard rainfall in the eastern German state of Saxony has caused flooding in a region called Saxon Switzerland, which is located southeast of the major city of Dresden. The hilly area around the Elbe valley is a popular tourist destination.
Heavy rains have caused flooding on several streets in the Saxon town of Oberlungwitz
The Saxon towns of Neustadt, Sebnitz, Bad Schandau, Rheinhardtsdorf-Schöna and Gohrisch have been hit particularly hard.
The heavy rainfall has forced the closure of a railway line between Bad Schandau and the Czech town of Decin.
The region of Upper Bavaria, which is located in the southern German state of Bavaria, is also witnessing emergency conditions. Firefighters have been deployed amid reports of flooded streets and landslides in the region.
The flooding has caused devastation in Berchtesgadener Land and overwhelmed rescue personnel
The Upper Bavarian district of Berchtesgadener Land has declared the flooding a disaster situation. Officials in Berchtesgadener Land have reported two dead in the flooding area.
Austria is also being impacted by the flooding, according to Austrian public broadcaster ORF.
Residents of the city of Hallein, which lies in the Austrian state of Salzburg near the German border, have been asked to stay in their homes. The flooding has devastated parts of Hallein’s historic old city.
Even though much flooding has subsided, danger remains for many residents near Euskirchen, where the Steinbachtal dam is still at risk of bursting. The dam is “extremely unstable” after large parts broke away amid the high waters, Cologne authorities said on Saturday. They said there was an acute danger of flooding for areas situated below the dam, with more evacuations planned.
North Rhine-Westphalian State Premier Armin Laschet, who hopes to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany this fall, apologized after a video of him prompted outrage on social media.
In the video, Laschet is seen laughing in the background as Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier talks to reporters about helping victims of the flood. The clip prompted a hashtag #Laschetlacht (Laschet laughs), with many calling his behavior “disrespectful” and “undignified.”
Laschet reiterated that he was concerned about the fate of victims, and said he regretted “the impression that was created by a conversation.”
“This [impression] was inappropriate and I am sorry.”
Late on Saturday, German officials raised the death toll to 141 and the number of injured to 670. Many people remain missing, fanning fears that more lives will have been lost. Police in the town of Koblenz said a helicopter mission was planned to look for survivors.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to visit the area in the country’s northwest on Sunday.
“Without a doubt,” said caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands when asked whether climate change had caused the storms behind the flooding. “I don’t want to make hasty declarations but let’s be clear, something is really happening,” said Rutte during a visit to the southern province of Limburg.
At least four firefighters in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia lost their lives during rescue operations since flooding began Wednesday, according to Bernd Schneider, chairman of the NRW Firefighters Association. Speaking on Saturday, he said, “The anguish in fire departments in North Rhine-Westphalia and beyond, is enormous. We will all have a lot to process when our mission is over.”
More than 23,000 emergency forces are currently working in rescue operations in the state according to regional government sources.
Thousands of emergency forces have been risking their lives to save others, four firefighters have been killed
Local citizens in Ahrweiler were using their own machines and vehicles to clear up debris on Saturday, DW’s Giulia Saudelli noted in a tweet. They say government assistance has yet to arrive.
DW’s Kate Brady reported that outreach organizers near Erftstadt had to close down a donations center because they could no longer manage the amount of goods they were receiving. A woman sheltering at the site since Thursday told our correspondent she doesn’t know what she needs, “When you’ve lost almost everything … where do you start?”
DW’s Kate Martyr reported Saturday on the tragic deaths of 12 individuals trapped in a home for disabled people as the floodwaters rose in Sinzig.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, visiting the Rhine-Erft district in North Rhine-Westphalia, paid tribute to the people who died in the flooding.
“We are mourning with those who have lost their friends, acquaintances, their family members — your fate has broken our hearts,” he said on Saturday, appearing visibly shaken.
Giving thanks to the emergency crews, the German head of state said they had “worked to the point of exhaustion and beyond.”
Speaking alongside President Steinmeier, NRW State Premier Armin Laschet promised that aid to victims of what he called the “disaster of the century,” would be rapidly disbursed, calling it a “national task.”
“If your home has been destroyed, if there is nothing left, not even money,” Laschet said, “helping with that, immediately, is the most important thing.”
Earlier in the day, Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies over the flooding in a message addressed to Steinmeier, saying, “On behalf of myself and of the people of Norway, I am sending you my sincere condolences, and ask you to convey my condolences to those bereaved or otherwise affected by this terrible natural disaster.”
DW’s Giulia Saudelli has been on the ground in the flood-affected area of Ahrweiler.
Our correspondent met several residents who spoke of the horror of seeing their homes and businesses destroyed.
Alexander Petkovski owns the Brettspielheld toy and game store in the town.
He describes how his shop was covered in nearly “one meter of water.”
“I think it will take months or years to put it [back together],” he told DW.
The death toll in Belgium reached 24, as search and rescue efforts continue in the eastern part of the country. Many people are still missing. Police in Angleur, in the city of Liege, said they had found at least one more body overnight.
DW’s Kate Brady reports that the clean-up has also started across Ahrweiler as residents return to their homes to try and salvage what is left of them.
“Friends, family and volunteers have traveled miles to help. The extent of destruction is devastating,” our correspondent writes.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to the heavily-hit Schuld municipality in the district of Ahrweiler on Sunday, according to the Bild newspaper.
She will be accompanied by Malu Dreyer, the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate.
“I would like to thank the helpers from the bottom of my heart for their commitment, which we know is sometimes really very, very dangerous,” Merkel said earlier from Washington. “On behalf of the federal government, I can say: where we can help, we will do it. These are horrific days for the people in the floodplains.”
The colossal North Sea flood of February 1962 killed over 300 people and left tens of thousands in Germany’s port city of Hamburg without shelter. It was a crucial turning point in the career of future Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, then interior minister of the city state. His handling of the crisis, particularly his decision to draft in soldiers to help, gained him nationwide popularity.
The “eternal chancellor” was in the final phase of his tenure when he visited the eastern state of Brandenburg in 1997 after massive flooding along the River Oder. Sometimes dubbed the Einheitsflut, “unity flood”, the disaster is often considered the first national crisis to test the solidarity between the newly reunified East and West Germanys.
The fortunes of Gerhard Schröder turned round when the rains fell in Saxony in the summer of 2002, when deadly floods affected Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. With his election campaign ailing, the Social Democrat chancellor donned wellington boots and portrayed himself as a crisis manager in the small eastern town of Grimma. He won the election by the barest of margins a month later.
His opponent, Edmund Stoiber, chancellor candidate for the CDU/CSU, was caught cold by Schröder’s trip – he was actually on holiday in northern Germany when the disaster struck. He only arrived in the affected area a few days later, and complained bitterly of his competitor’s “flood tourism.”
Angela Merkel visited flood regions several times during her chancellorship. The first major flood of her tenure came in March and April 2006, again around the River Elbe in Saxony. The disaster struck just a few months after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the US, when George W. Bush came under attack for failing to organize an adequate response. Merkel made sure to avoid the same criticism.
Eastern and southern Germany were hit again by extreme floods in the summer of 2013, this time a few months before an election. The historic center of Dresden was threatened as the Elbe burst its banks in widespread flooding that hit much of Central Europe. Merkel visited affected regions in Saxony and Bavaria, promising federal aid.
CDU chancellor candidate and premier of North Rhine-Westphalia cancelled all other appointments to visit the badly affected city of Hagen in his state. The political stakes are high, as the deadly floods are being linked to climate change, and Laschet has a reputation as a protector of the state’s coal industry, which could potentially damage his campaign.
The Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz also appeared in the neighboring state of Rhineland-Palatinate after the floods hit, alongside state premier and party colleague Malu Dreyer (SPD). Though his party is trailing in the polls a long way behind Armin Laschet’s CDU, Scholz, as the current German finance minister, was able to promise immediate federal aid for the flood-stricken regions.
The rescue operation in Erftstadt has been completed, according to authorities there. As many as 170 people were saved by emergency workers.
Some of them were airlifted by helicopter.
The focus has now shifted to finding the bodies of those who lost their lives.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has been to the scene of what he called “unprecedented” flood damage in the country. He was joined at the site by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as the two viewed a river valley in eastern Belgium near the German border.
The last official death toll in Belgium was 20, with up to 20 people still missing. Authorities say that figure is expected to rise as emergency workers continue search and rescue efforts.
DW’s Giulia Saudelli has been reporting from the town of Walporzheim in the flood-ravaged Ahrweiler region.
Our correspondent reports that town’s main square has been completely destroyed and that clean-up operations have now begun in earnest.
“There’s a lot of movement going on, a lot of volunteers here trying to help clean up the town from all the debris, trees, cars, furniture, all sorts of things,” she reports.
Several train lines have been damaged following the deadly floods. The route along the western banks of the Rhine River between Cologne and Koblenz, for instance, has been out of service since a signal box in Bonn was flooded. Rail carrier Deutsche Bahn will switch to the eastern banks of the Rhine and two auxiliary tracks will be set up over the next few days, said a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, several rail bridges along lines through the Ahr Valley have collapsed — damage that could take years to fully repair. The regional Eifel line from Bonn to Euskirchen is also out of service.
Over 100 people have been reported dead and scores more are missing after torrential rain and floods swept across Western Europe, with Germany bearing the brunt of one of its biggest natural disasters in recent decades. Rescue operations continue in the country’s hardest-hit cities and towns. Over a thousand citizens are still missing and many more remain trapped in flooded buildings.
Some districts in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are still underwater, others are assessing damage as floodwaters recede. Leaking gas pipes and structural damage to buildings across the state have turned some sites into death traps and authorities have warned people not to go looking for missing relatives on their own but to leave it to rescue workers.
With the death toll climbing higher almost hourly, thousands of volunteers, firefighters and some 900 army personnel have joined the clean-up and salvage operations. There are fears that more victims could be found as waters recede and begin to reveal the true toll the storm took on everything in its path.
People trapped in buildings likely to collapse at any second are in urgent need of help. In towns such as Schuld and Heimerzheim floodwaters destroyed roads and railroad tracks, cutting off residents from the outside world. In extreme cases, police, fire and rescue, and armed forces units had to airlift residents from rooftops by helicopter.
While rescue workers are exhausted from grueling and deadly round-the-clock work, police have warned against “flood tourism” — telling outsiders to stay away. “They make affected residents feel like they are in a zoo,” as Lars Brummer of the Koblenz Police Department told regional public broadcaster SWR. “They can also hinder rescue workers.”
Hundreds of families have lost everything and become displaced. The cities of Cologne and Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia have set up emergency accommodations for evacuees and aid organizations have begun collecting donations and recruiting volunteers for what will be massive repair operations.
Local media have reported catastrophic damage to infrastructure, public property and private businesses. Rhineland-Palatinate Finance Minister Doris Ahnen promised tax waivers to flood victims. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the livelihood of many families in Germany, some victims might need much more than that to get back on their feet again.
Emergency services in the Netherlands are on high alert as overflowing rivers continue to threaten towns and villages in the country’s southern province of Limburg.
Authorities have evacuated thousands of residents in the area over the past two days as volunteers and fire brigades move to prevent further flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped the same high human cost seen in western Germany.
As of Saturday morning, no casualties had been reported.
The situation remained tense in a German district close to the Dutch border after residents were evacuated last night after a nearby dam broke, according to a statement the town issued.
Residents of Ophoven, in the city of Wassenberg, were evacuated from their homes after a dam broke in the Heinsberg district in western Germany. It was unclear how much damage had been caused by the dam breaking on the Ruhr River, which flows from Germany through the Netherlands and Belgium.
Around 700 people were affected by the measures, which began on Friday night. Wassenberg officials said no further problems had occurred during the night and that water levels remained stable. However, they warned people living in two other nearby districts of the possible need to evacuate.
Police in Mainz, a city on the Rhine, have taken to Twitter to tell motorcyclists to stay away from the worst-hit areas of Rhineland-Palatinate.
“We ask all motorcyclists to avoid area affected by the storm this weekend,” they wrote.
“It is not time to go riding in a disaster area where many people have experienced great suffering and loss.”
German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze has told the broadcaster WDR that the flooding shows that extra cash is needed for the affected regions to deal with extreme weather.
“There must be permanent funding for local authorities so that they can make this transition,” she said. Schulze said the money should be used for improving water management schemes and that progress needed to be made “faster than currently is the case.”
Rescue crews are continuing the search for people missing in the western German village of Erfstadt-Blessem, the site of a massive sinkhole caused by the floods. No bodies have been found yet, and there are no reliable figures on how many people are still missing.
“We assume several deaths, but do not know,” said the North Rhine-Westphalian Interior Minister Herbert Reul on Friday in Düsseldorf.
At least three residential buildings and part of a historic castle collapsed in the area. Water levels have dropped in other parts of the area, a district spokesperson said on Saturday.
The official death toll has risen to 133, with 43 confirmed in North Rhine-Westphalia and 150 confirmed in total across Belgium, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
At least 90 of the deaths in Germany were in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, and officials say that figure is likely to rise as rescue efforts continue. Police said they had received reports of over 618 injuries.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit an affected district in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He will visit along with State Premier Armin Laschet, who is in the running to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor in the fall. He is expected in the Rhein-Erft district and is then due to join Laschet in a visit to Erftstadt, where numerous houses and cars were washed away in recent days.
In Erftstadt-Blessem, several buildings and parts of a historic castle were destroyed due to a sink hole and major landslides. State Interior Minister Herbert Reul said on Friday evening it was assumed several people in Erftstadt had died but the situation was not yet clear.
Thousands of emergency workers are still in the Eifel region, where the flood devastated entire towns and flattened homes on Thursday night. Damaged power and telephone lines as well as interruptions to mobile phone services have made it harder to locate people and carry out rescue services.
Initial forecasts for Rhineland-Palatinate showed the danger of flooding had fallen, although warnings remained in place around the Ahr river and the tributaries of the lower Sauer.