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Germans demand change a year on from deadly floods

By AFP - Jul 14,2022 - Last updated at Jul 14,2022

BAD NEUENAHR-AHRWEILER, Germany — Germany on Thursday paid tribute to more than 180 people killed in severe floods a year ago, as those left behind charged that help with the reconstruction effort has been too slow to arrive.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked on a tour of the Ahr Valley, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz joined a human chain in the hard-hit town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler and took part in a minute's silence to remember the victims.

In Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Cornelia Weigand, who was the mayor of nearby Altenahr at the time of the floods, told a sombre crowd that "the scale of the damage to body and soul" was "inconceivable".

"Our mourning cannot be described with words," she said, her voice wavering.

In Altenahr, Steinmeier said he wanted to "show that we haven't forgotten the people of the Ahr valley" and "how many are still struggling to rebuild their homes".

However, a year on from the disaster, frustration is building at the sluggish pace of help promised by the government.

Alfred Sebastian, the mayor of Dernau, said the town was "still at the very beginning" of the reconstruction process.

"We need to be financially supported by the state... We need it now. If not now, when? We have to move forward," he said.


Trail of destruction 


"Many of us are simply tired, exhausted and also disappointed about the fact that parts of the reconstruction... are only progressing slowly," said Guido Orthen, the mayor of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

Orthen also called on the government to "improve disaster prevention so that people no longer lose their lives in this way".

Severe floods pummelled western Germany over two days in July last year, ripping through entire towns and villages and destroying bridges, roads, railways and swathes of housing.

Between 100 and 150 millimetres of rain fell between July 14 and 15, according to the German weather service — an amount that would normally be seen over two months.

Forecasters had issued warnings, yet many residents were simply unaware of the risks of such violent flooding, with dozens found dead in their cellars.

With former chancellor Angela Merkel still in charge at the time of the floods, the government pledged a total of 30 billion euros ($30 billion) in federal and state aid to help with the reconstruction effort.

But in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, only 500 million euros in aid has been handed out of the total 15 billion euros set aside.

In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, 1.6 billion euros of government support has been approved for use, out of a total of 12.3 billion euros.


Climate concerns 


Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer on Thursday told residents of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler that their suffering had not been forgotten.

"I can assure you that we are working hard every day to ensure that the reconstruction succeeds for all and we take your concerns very seriously," she said.

The disaster prompted criticism of Germany's flood warning system and a criminal inquiry was opened into local officials for "negligent homicide".

The government has since pledged to introduce phone alerts in the form of "cell broadcasting" and to reinstall sirens, many of which have been taken down in recent years.

It also raised concerns about climate change, with one international study showing that man-made global warming had made the floods up to nine times more likely.

A year on, Germany is set for more extreme weather with temperatures of up to 40ºC expected this week as a heatwave sweeps across Europe.

In neighbouring Belgium, where 39 people were also killed in the deluge, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attended a ceremony in Liege.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo paid tribute to the "heroes" who came to the aid of the victims, including a 14-year-old boy who threw himself into a river in an unsuccessful attempt to save a fellow scout camp member.

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