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German president thanks helpers as flood deaths rise above 130


  17 Juillet      37        Monde (455),

   

Berlin, July 17, (dpa/GNA) – The number of people who have died in the devastating

flooding in western Germany rose further on Saturday, while the president thanked

rescue workers who continued to search for survivors.
Early on Saturday, the death toll reached 133, after police announced 90 fatalities in the

Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate, while 43 were confirmed in North Rhine

Westphalia late on Friday.
Rescue work continued across Europe where more than 150 people have died in the

flooding after heavy rainfall hit parts of Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland,

Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his heartfelt thanks to those

aiding the rescue efforts, noting that many had worked to the point of exhaustion and

beyond.
He joined North Rhine Westphalia state Premier Armin Laschet in a visit to Erftstadt,

where numerous houses and cars were washed away in recent days.
Laschet meanwhile promised that aid would be provided swiftly and without excessive

bureaucracy, during his visit. He described the situation as the « disaster of the century »

and said helping the region affected was a « national task. »
In Erftstadt-Blessem, several buildings and parts of a historic castle were destroyed due

to a sink hole and major landslides.
Bundeswehr troops have begun clearing cars stuck in the floods on a nearby main road

using light wheeled tanks.
Many people remain unaccounted for more than two days after massive flooding hit the

region and search and rescue efforts are ongoing. Images of devastation have shocked

the nation.
More than 23,000 emergency forces were working in rescue operations in the state of

North Rhine Westphalia, according to the regional government.
Some 700 residents of Ophoven were evacuated from their homes on Friday evening

after a dam broke in the Heinsberg district in the western state. The situation remained

tense early on Saturday morning, according to a statement issued by the town close to

the Dutch border.
Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged support for those affected by flooding during a Friday

video conference with Laschet, who is also the frontrunner to succeed Merkel at the

September election.
Merkel also plans to travel to hard-hit parts of Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, the state

chancellery in Mainz told dpa.
Thousands of emergency workers are in the Eifel region, where the deluge devastated

entire towns on Thursday night. Damaged power and telephone lines and interruptions to

mobile phone services have made it harder to locate people.
Experts were monitoring a dam in Euskirchen closely that was highly unstable, according

to the Cologne district government. The danger of flooding remained acute, the official

statement said.
Across the border in Belgium, the death toll from floods and heavy downpours has risen

to 24, Belgium’s National Crisis Centre (CCN) said on Saturday morning, as the small

country took stock of the damage from recent days.
« Unfortunately, we must take into account that this number will increase again in the days

and hours to come, » the government body said in an online statement.
Emergency workers continue their rescue efforts on the ground, the CCN said, but in the

badly-affected Liege province, search operations are « practically finished. »
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited affected communities on Saturday

accompanied by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belga news

agency reported. The EU executive branch is based in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
De Croo said he was very touched after meeting emergency workers and inhabitants of

two towns badly affected by flooding, Rochefort and Pepinster.

« Considerable damage, pain but also enormous solidarity, » De Croo tweeted.

The presence of European Commission President von der Leyen during his visit « shows

this solidarity transcends borders, » the Belgian leader said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had offered help to Germany and

Belgium, in comments to Radio Olsztyn. The Polish president expressed his sympathies in

a letter to Steinmeier on Friday.

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