Merkel to visit flood-affected areas as more than 150 dead in Germany

Mainz, July 18, (dpa/GNA) - With the number of people who died in the devastating flooding in western Germany at over 150, Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to visit the worst-affected area in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday.

The wider region has begun a huge clean-up operation to remove mud and debris strewn over the streets of once-picturesque towns and villages, and rebuild homes and infrastructure.

Police said the death toll in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate alone had risen to 110. With 45 people confirmed dead in the neighbouring state of North Rhine Westphalia, this brings the toll across the country to over 150.

Police said 670 people had been injured in Ahrweiler, where the Ahr tributary turned into a torrent after heavy rains, inundating whole communities.
The number of fatalities could rise further, police said.

In many of the surrounding areas power and phone lines were still not operational.

Merkel is expected in the municipality of Schuld in Ahrweiler in the early afternoon. Afterwards, a press statement is planned in nearby Adenau, with state Premier Malu Dreyer.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday called for solidarity and donations for the victims during a visit to a North Rhine Westphalian disaster area on the Erft river.

Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters meanwhile that a "national effort" would be needed to put the region back on its feet.

The initial sum required was in the hundreds of millions of euros, he told Sunday's edition of the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, and the Cabinet would be meeting on Wednesday to consider the plans.

Urgent financial aid would come on top of longer-term reconstruction costs, which could run into the billions, he suggested.

"The first urgent financial aid should reach those affected in July," he was quoted as saying.

Hundreds of kilometres away in Germany's Upper Bavaria, the district of Berchtesgadener Land on Saturday night declared a disaster situation due to flooding.

Two people died, District Administrator Bernhard Kern explained at a press conference in Bad Reichenhall on Sunday morning, but one victim had died of natural causes, which could also be related to the storm, Kern said.

Torrential rains had caused the river Ache in the district to burst its banks and pour down slopes on Saturday evening. The fire brigade and other relief workers were working non-stop on Sunday, with 890 relief workers deployed in the particularly affected villages.

The local head of operations, Anton Brandner, spoke of dramatic scenes: "Vehicles on the roads became the playthings of the masses of water."

The towns of Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen, Schoenau am Koenigssee, Marktschellenberg and Ramsau in the far south-east of Bavaria were particularly affected. The fire brigade and other emergency services had to respond to up to 500 incidents - also to save lives.

Around 130 people had to be brought out of their homes to safety because of the floods in the Berchtesgadener Land.
Rail traffic between Bad Reichenhall and Berchtesgaden had been suspended, Kern said. Roads had also been "extremely affected."

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder and Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann plan to travel to the flood area on Sunday afternoon.

Extreme rain and flooding in the past week has also particularly affected parts of the Belgium and the Netherlands which neighbour the hard-hit west German states.

The death toll in Belgium rose to 27 as of Saturday evening, the National Crisis Centre said, with over 100 missing.