Death toll rises to more than 180 as Germany, Belgium clean up after floods

As waters subside after devastating floods in Germany and Belgium, a huge clean-up is underway.

Over 180 people have died and that figure could rise with many still missing.

Germany has borne the brunt of the extreme weather, with at least 155 people killed in Rhineland-Palatinate state and neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia.

Belgium has confirmed 27 casualties.

The storms destroyed roads and bridges and reduced houses to rubble and mud.

Heavy rain and flooding continued on Saturday in other parts of Europe, but in Germany the waters receded to leave businesses and livelihoods destroyed.

‘Everything is broken’

The village of Wassenberg flooded when the nearby dam overflowed, leaving many inhabitants in shock.

“What can we do? Everything is broken,” said one man summing up the situation.

On the outskirts of Erftstadt in North Rhine-Westphalia, highway 265 looked more like a river than a road on Saturday.

The German armed forces were busy recovering vehicles trapped by the floodwaters.

Military units also arrived in other towns and villages to help with the clean-up efforts.

The number of missing people continues to fall as they are located, but the death toll is expected to rise as rescue operations continue.

Leaders pledge long-term support

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to visit the region on Sunday.

Her visit comes after Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier went to the area on Saturday and made clear that it will need long-term support.

“A lot of people have lost everything they spent their lives building up — their possessions, their home, the roof over their heads,” Steinmeier said.

“It may only be possible to clear up in weeks how much damage needs to be compensated,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Belgium’s most affected regions on Saturday and assured the residents of the European Union’s support.

“My heart sank when I met people who lost their homes and the savings of a lifetime. I told them: Europe is with you. We share your grief. We will help you rebuild,” von der Leyen tweeted.

The Netherlands, France and Switzerland have also been hit by flooding, the worst Europe has seen in living memory.

Political undertones as German election looms

As Germany is headed to a general election in September, the disaster has taken a political turn.

Candidates were vying to make the most ambitious proposals to tackle climate change, which many experts have blamed for the floods.

Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state and frontrunner to succeed to Merkel in Germany’s September election, became embroiled in a controversy after he was seen laughing in the background as Steinmeier delivered a statement on the floods.

“Laschet laughs while the country cries,” wrote Bild newspaper.

Laschet has since apologised on Twitter for an “inappropriate” scene.

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