August 3, 2021

Deadly floods hit western Germany

By early morning, there was talk of four deaths. At nightfall, there were fifty-nine. Thursday, July 15, the toll of the terrible floods that hit western Germany grew heavier hour by hour. And yet this is only a provisional count, while several dozen people were still missing and more than 200,000 homes were without electricity at the end of the evening.

Since those of 1962, which had left 315 dead in Hamburg, Germany had not known such deadly floods. This time, it was the Rhineland that was affected, and in particular the region south-west of Bonn, where the torrential rains of the last few days have sometimes raised the level of several small rivers by almost eight meters. As in Ahrweiler and Euskirchen, two wine-growing cantons literally swallowed up by water, and which alone concentrated more than half of the deaths counted Thursday evening in the country.

Read also Heavy flooding in Germany and Belgium, at least 68 dead and many missing

Exceptional, the situation even pushed Angela Merkel to depart from a principle which is nevertheless dear to her: never to speak out about what is happening in Germany when she is abroad. Traveling to Washington on Thursday, the Chancellor broke this rule by solemnly speaking for a little over three minutes from the German embassy. “It’s a disaster, you could even say a tragedy. I am overwhelmed by the news that reaches me. (…) Rest assured that all administrations at federal, regional and local level will join forces to save lives and make the situation less dangerous and painful. “

Debris from houses destroyed by flooding, in Schuld, near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany, July 15, 2021.
Firefighters on a rescue mission in the Ehrang district of Trier, western Germany, July 15, 2021.

Two months before the legislative elections of September 26, however, it is less on a departing Angela Merkel than on her potential successors that the German media have focused their attention. And all the more so since the images of Thursday awoke memories: those of the floods which had hit the east of the country, in August 2002, when the Elbe had overflowed. At the time too, Germany was in the midst of an electoral campaign and, in the opinion of all observers, it was by going quickly there, boots on, to supervise the rescue operations, that the social chancellor -Democrat (SPD) outgoing, Gerhard Schröder, had folded the match of his re-election against the Bavarian conservative (CSU) Edmund Stoiber, who had appeared totally overwhelmed by events.

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