Europe floods: Angela Merkel vows climate action as she tours ‘surreal’ flood scene

ITV News reporter Joshua Stokes reports as the clean-up operation continues

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has surveyed what she called a “surreal, ghostly” scene in a devastated village, pledging financial aid and climate action as the death toll from floods in Western Europe climbed above 180. Merkel toured Schuld, a village on a tight curve of the Ahr River in western Germany where many buildings were damaged or destroyed by rapidly rising floodwaters Wednesday night.

Merkel said she came away from Schuld, still partly strewn with rubble and mud, with “a real picture of, I must say, the surreal, ghostly situation.”

“It is shocking - I would almost say that the German language barely has words for the devastation that has been wreaked,” she said at a news conference in a nearby town.

A resident throws damaged items out of a window after flooding in Ensival, Verviers, Belgium. Credit: AP

Merkel said authorities will work to “set the world right again in this beautiful region, step by step,” and her Cabinet will approve an immediate and medium-term financial aid program on Wednesday.

Many people remain missing across western Europe, as rescue workers got to work in the devastation and looked to prevent further damage.

Police said at least 110 people are known to have died in western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state, and more casualties are feared.

In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 45 people were confirmed dead, including four firefighters. And Belgium has confirmed 27 casualties.

Houses are destroyed after devastating floods in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany. Credit: AP

Pope Francis offered a prayer of support for the flood victims and for support of the “efforts of all to help those who suffered great damage.”

“I express my closeness to the populations of Germany, Belgium and Holland, hit by catastrophic flooding,” he said in his first public appearance to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square after major surgery.

There was flooding again on Saturday night in the German-Czech border area, across the country from where last week’s floods hit, and in Germany’s southeastern corner and over the border in Austria.

Some 65 people were evacuated in Germany’s Berchtesgaden area after the Ache River swelled. At least one person was killed.Elsewhere waters have begun to recede across many of the affected regions, but officials fear more bodies might be found in cars and trucks that were swept away.

Houses are destroyed after devastating floods in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany. Credit: AP

The German military used armored vehicles on Saturday to clear away cars and trucks overwhelmed by the floodwaters on a nearby road, some of which were still at least partly submerged.

Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but by Saturday morning no casualties had been confirmed.

In the Ahrweiler area, police warned people of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away.

A victim of the floods in Belgium shows how high water levels in his house reached

Many areas are still without electricity and telephone service.

A dam in the western Germany state of North Rhine-Westphalia burst, forcing many local residents to evacuate in the early hours of Saturday.

Approximately 700 residents in the village of Ophoven, on the border with the Netherlands, had to be evacuated after the breach of the Rur River.

Many locals took part in the efforts to protect the old town by building sandbag dams on the flooded streets.

A car washed up by the flood leans against a tree while the river Ahr can be seen in the background. Credit: AP

Train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas of eastern Belgium. The national railway service said traffic would start returning to normal on Monday.

A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Friday to offer comfort to residents.

In addition to worst-hit Germany and Belgium, southern parts of the Netherlands also have been hit by heavy flooding.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that the region faced “three disasters.”

“First, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery,” he said. “It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.

In Switzerland, heavy rain as caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks, with authorities in the city of Lucerne closing several pedestrian bridges over the Reuss river.