Germany announces millions in immediate flood aid as multibillion dollar repair bill looms
By Loveday Morris and Austin Davis,
Thomas Frey AP
BONN, Germany — The German government approved $470 million in immediate aid for flood victims on Wednesday as it assessed the mammoth task of rebuilding infrastructure torn apart by floodwaters last week.
The initial assistance to help people rebuild their homes and businesses after the flooding that killed at least 171 people in Germany will be expanded as needed, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said. At least 200 people died across Europe, with neighboring Belgium also hit by the surging waters.
“If it becomes the case that more is needed, then we will make more funds available,” he said, adding that efforts would be made so the funding, the cost of which will be split between Berlin and the federal states, reaches people as quickly as possible.
For longer-term reconstruction efforts of roads, railways, hospitals, water and electricity networks the government is still working out how high the bill will run. The Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has estimated the damage to the rail networks alone to be $1.6 billion.
A week after the worst flooding in living memory ripped through parts of western Germany, entire villages are still without power or the most basic of services. Highways are ripped to pieces, railway bridges lie twisted across rivers clogged with mounds of detritus including cars and caravans. Sewage, water and telecommunications networks have been obliterated.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts as she addresses a news conference during a visit in flood-stricken Bad Münstereifel, Germany, on July 20.
Touring the town of Bad Münstereifel on Tuesday, one of the worst hit areas in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the scale of the damage was “terrifying.”
“We have seen people who have lost everything,” she said. “We will work together to do everything we can to ensure that funds quickly reach those who have been left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are counting on our support.”
The reconstruction effort comes as Germany approaches elections in September, with some victims expressing hope that this will speed up the aid in the country’s notoriously bureaucratic system.
Merkel even assured people that the aid would be administered “unbureaucratically.”
The longer term reconstruction efforts will be funded by the government in Berlin and state funds, Merkel said. Germany is also considering applying for E.U. assistance, Scholz said.
The bill from extreme flooding in 2013 that largely hit eastern and southern states stretched to more than $7 billion, Scholz said. “It will still be more. That’s how long it drags on,” he said.
Thousands of homes remain without power, and electricity supplier Westnetz, has said that some areas are still cordoned off and inaccessible to their engineers. Substations and supply lines need to be completely rebuilt.
Trucks have distributed plastic containers of water to some areas where water pipes have been washed away.
“We don’t know at this point what the actual damage will ultimately look like,” said Hartmut Hoevel, a hydraulic engineer with Erft Water Authority, which monitors water and rainfall levels in the region along the Erft river, a tributary of the Rhine.
Davis reported from Berlin.