At least 155 people remain missing a week after record rainfall caused devastating floods in western Germany, as the president of the country’s disaster relief organisation said she “did not expect” rescuers to find any more survivors.
“We are currently still searching for missed ones as we are clearing debris or pumping out cellars,” said Sabine Lackner of the federal agency for technical relief, a volunteering organisation belonging to the German ministry of the interior.
“But sadly at this stage it is very likely that victims can only be recovered and not rescued,” Lackner told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
A week after slow-moving weather system released two months’ worth of rain in two days over western Germany, the number of fatalities has risen to at least 171, of which 123 have been confirmed in the hilly Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate. Another 764 people have been injured, and 155 people are still recorded as missing.
In the wine-growing Ahr valley and regions in neighbouring North-Rhine Westphalia approximately 40,000 people are believed to have been affected by the floods.
The catastrophic flash floods have left thousands of people in western Germany without access to drinking water, electricity and gas. The full extent of damage to the area’s infrastructure has only emerged since the waters fully subsided over the last few days.
In Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a spa town that serves as the capital of the Ahrweiler district, about 19,000 people are now without gas used to heat water and homes, after pipelines were wiped out along with the bridges to which they were attached.
“Kilometres of pipelines and control stations are just gone,” a spokesperson for the regional energy provider EMV said, adding it would take several months to rebuild the infrastructure.
The Marburger Bund, a trade union representing physicians in Germany, has voiced concern about the shortage of medical staff and supplies in the affected areas, with 20 medical practices closed due to the floods in Rhineland-Palatinate alone.
Train tracks built alongside rivers have been washed out, with the national rail company, Deutsche Bahn, reporting that 373 miles (600km) of tracks and 80 stations were impassable and could take years to fully rebuild.
The German Insurance Association has estimated the floods to have caused damages amounting to €4bn to €5bn. Floods in 2002, when the river Elbe breached its banks in eastern Germany, caused €4.65bn worth of damage.
On Wednesday, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her cabinet approved emergency financial aid worth €200m for people affected by the flood, with state governments expected to match the federal aid programme, and a larger package to rebuild essential infrastructure expected at a later point.
“The citizens are not to blame for what happened,” said the finance minister, Olaf Scholz. “It is something to be attributed to mankind as a whole, and climate change.”