Germany sets out flood relief funding, hopes of finding survivors fade
By Kirsti Knolle and Riham Alkousaa
BERLIN (Reuters) -A relief official dampened hopes on Wednesday of finding more survivors in the rubble of villages devastated by floods in western Germany, as a poll showed many Germans felt policymakers had not done enough to protect them.
At least 170 people died in last week’s flooding, Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century, and thousands went missing.
“We are still looking for missing persons as we clear roads and pump water out of basements,” Sabine Lackner, deputy chief of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.
Any victims that are found now are likely to be dead, she said.
For immediate relief, the federal government will initially provide up to 200 million euros ($235.5 million) in emergency aid, and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said more funds can be made available if needed.
That will come on top of at least 250 million euros to be provided from the affected states to repair buildings and damaged local infrastructure and to help people in crisis situations.
Scholz said the government would contribute to the cost of rebuilding infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The full extent of the damage is not clear, but Scholz said that rebuilding after previous floods cost about 6 billion euros.
Interior minister Horst Seehofer, who faced calls from opposition politicians to resign over the high death toll from the floods, said there would be no shortage of money for reconstruction.
“That is why people pay taxes, so that they can receive help in situations like this. Not everything can be insured,” he told a news conference.
The floods are estimated to have caused more than 1 billion euros in insured losses, actuary company MSK said on Tuesday.
The overall damage is expected to be much higher as only around 45% of homeowners in Germany have insurance that covers flood damage, according to figures from Germany’s insurance industry association GDV.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio the aid would include funds to help businesses such as restaurants or hair salons make up for lost revenue.
The floods have dominated the political agenda less than three months before a national election in September and raised uncomfortable questions about why Europe’s richest economy was caught flat-footed.
Two-thirds of Germans believe that federal and regional policymakers should have done more to protect communities from floods, a survey by the INSA institute for German mass-circulation paper Bild showed on Wednesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting the devastated town of Bad Muenstereifel on Tuesday, said authorities would look at what had not worked after being widely accused of not being prepared despite weather warnings from meteorologists.
($1 = 0.8490 euros)
(Writing by Maria Sheahan, Editing by Timothy Heritage)