German officials defend their flood-preparations in the face the torrents that swept through Western Europe and killed over 190 people. However, they admit that they need to learn from the tragedy.
As floodwaters receded, efforts to locate more victims and clean up the aftermath of the floods in a large area of western Germany and eastern Belgium continued Monday. Up to now, 117 people have died in Rhineland-Palatinate, the worst-affected German state; 46 in North Rhine-Westphalia and one in Bavaria. Both states were hit hard by heavy rains and flooding this weekend. Belgium was home to at least 31 victims.
Although the downpours that caused small rivers to rise at great speed in the middle last week were predicted, warnings of potential catastrophic damage did not appear to have reached many people on ground — often in middle of the night.
“As soon we have provided the immediate assistance that stands at the forefront right now, we will need to examine whether things went well or not, and then we have to correct them,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said to Bild. “This is not about pointing fingers — it’s about making improvements for the future.
According to Germany’s Civil Protection Agency, the head of the agency stated that Germany’s weather service “forecast reasonably well” and that it was well-prepared for floods on its major rivers.
Armin Schuster said that it was often impossible to predict where water will be pumped. He stated that 150 warning notices were sent via apps and other media.
He stated that he could not yet determine where sirens were heard and where they weren’t. “We will have to investigate this.”
Rhineland-Palatinate officials in Germany said that they were prepared for flooding, and that municipalities had been alerted to and acted upon.
Roger Lewentz (the state’s interior Minister) said that after visiting Schuld, the hardest-hit village, he had “the problem that the technical infrastructure — electricity, and so forth — was destroyed in one shot.”
He said that local authorities tried to respond quickly. “But this was an explosive explosion of water in seconds. “… It is possible to have the best preparedness and warning situations, but if warning equipment gets destroyed or carried away with buildings, it is very difficult.” The flooding also knocked out cell phone networks.
After a September test that was the first in over 30 years, there were many questions about Germany’s emergency alert system. Sirens did not sound in all places or were removed after the Cold War ended. Push alerts from the national app arrived late or none at all.
Schuster, head of the civil protection agency noted that an earlier year program was launched to reform civil protection, which included a push to encourage local authorities install sirens. Schuster, the head of the civil protection agency, said that Germany does not have a text messaging system to warn of disasters but it is in process.
Local communities are faced with the daunting task of rebuilding destroyed homes and infrastructure like the water system. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet will prepare a package for immediate and medium-term financial assistance.
Merkel was asked Sunday if mandatory insurance should be required for residents of high-risk areas. She said that it would “overload” the economic capabilities of individuals and companies. Malu Dreyer (Rhineland-Palatinate governor) supports the idea.
Merkel stated that obligatory insurance could result in very high premiums, and that they are not affordable.