As the water subsides after devastating floods in Germany and Belgium, a huge cleanup is underway.…
More than 180 people have died, and this figure is likely to rise as many are still missing.
Germany has taken the brunt of the extreme weather, with at least 155 deaths in Rhineland-Palatinate and neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia.
Belgium has confirmed 27 deaths.
Hurricanes destroyed roads and bridges, turned houses into ruins and mud.
Heavy rains and flooding continued on Saturday in other parts of Europe, but in Germany the water receded, leaving businesses and livelihoods shattered.
‘Everything is broken’
The village of Wassenberg was flooded by a spill from a nearby dam, leaving many residents in shock.
“What we can do? Everything is broken, ”one man summed up the situation.
On the outskirts of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia, Highway 265 on Saturday looked more like a river than a road.
The German armed forces were busy lifting vehicles trapped in flood waters.
Military units also arrived in other towns and villages to help with the cleanup.
The number of missing persons continues to decline as they are discovered, but the death toll is expected to rise as rescue operations continue.
Leaders promise long-term support
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to visit the region on Sunday.
Her visit comes after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the region on Saturday and made it clear that he would need long-term support.
“Many people have lost everything that they have built with their lives – their property, their home, a roof over their heads,” Steinmeier said.
“Maybe only in a few weeks it will be possible to find out how much damage needs to be repaired,” he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the hardest-hit regions in Belgium on Saturday and reassured residents of the support of the European Union.
“My heart sank when I met people who lost their homes and life savings. I told them: Europe is with you. We share your grief. We will help you recover, ”von der Leyen tweeted.
Political overtones in anticipation of the German elections
As Germany approaches the general elections in September, the disaster has taken a political turn.
The candidates have fought for the most ambitious proposals to combat climate change, which many experts blame for the floods.
Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia and the leader who succeeded Merkel in Germany’s September elections, found himself embroiled in controversy after he was spotted laughing in the background when Steinmeier issued a flood statement.
“Laschet laughs, but the country cries,” wrote the Bild newspaper.
Laschet has since apologized on Twitter for the “inappropriate” scene.