Floods “Beyond imagination”. Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the country’s warning system on Tuesday, July 20, as the disaster toll increased further, to 169 dead in Germany and 200 in Europe.
In the only German regional state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the floods caused the death of 121 people, against 117 in the previous report, according to Aaron Klein, spokesperson for technical rescue teams. In Belgium, where a day of national mourning was held on Tuesday, 31 people died.
“These are floods that exceed the imagination when we see their effects on the spot”, said the Chancellor, who came to see the extent of the damage in the small medieval town of Bad Münstereifel, in North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the Länder most affected by the floods of last week.
“There were alerts”, she assured while the national system has been questioned for several days for having partly failed to warn the populations concerned in time of the seriousness of the floods in the west of the country. The German meteorological service and the Federal Office for Population and Disaster Prevention issue warnings which are then passed on to districts, she explained.
Districts “Then do what they can, but of course it is not easy to have an idea when, as the mayor says [de Bad Münstereifel], you haven’t had such a flood for seven hundred years ”, she continued. “We have a very good warning system”, she insisted, causing a few whistles emanating from the inhabitants who had come to listen to her in a street in the historic center of the city, covered with mud.
The President of Civil Protection referred to
The president of the German civil protection Armin Schuster, particularly targeted by the critics, had affirmed that his institution had sent some 150 alerts via the applications and the media.
But the floods had caused considerable power cuts and knocked down telecommunications antennas, preventing residents from receiving the alerts on time. Like Mr. Schuster, the Chancellor advocated the use of sirens as an additional alert tool. “Maybe the good old mermaid is more useful than we thought”, did she say.
A national test of this system inherited from the Cold War had turned into a fiasco last year, some sirens not having been triggered for technical reasons. Municipalities had also simply removed them, deeming them unnecessary.
Since then, the government launched a program in the spring of 90 million euros to rebuild the network. A new test is scheduled for next year.