As Germany mourns after deadly floods devasted swaths of the country, the cleanup operation goes on. The situation remains tense in some areas. Follow DW for more.
This article was last updated at 13:50 UTC
DW correspondent Benjamin Alvarez shared a video on Twitter showing the scenes after the initial stages of the clean-up in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler that was hit particularly badly by Saturday's flooding.
The video shows piles of debris left by the flood, laid out along the mud-covered street.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer commemorated the victims of the floods and praised the emergency efforts of the Bundeswehr soldiers.
"We think of those who have lost their lives, those who have lost loved ones [and] those who are left without possessions. But we also think of those who have helped and are still helping in the last days," Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
Over 100 people have been reported dead and scores more are missing after torrential rain and floods swept across Western Europe, with Germany bearing the brunt of one of its biggest natural disasters in recent decades. Rescue operations continue in the country's hardest-hit cities and towns. Over a thousand citizens are still missing and many more remain trapped in flooded buildings.
Some districts in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are still underwater, others are assessing damage as floodwaters recede. Leaking gas pipes and structural damage to buildings across the state have turned some sites into death traps and authorities have warned people not to go looking for missing relatives on their own but to leave it to rescue workers.
With the death toll climbing higher almost hourly, thousands of volunteers, firefighters and some 900 army personnel have joined the clean-up and salvage operations. There are fears that more victims could be found as waters recede and begin to reveal the true toll the storm took on everything in its path.
People trapped in buildings likely to collapse at any second are in urgent need of help. In towns such as Schuld and Heimerzheim floodwaters destroyed roads and railroad tracks, cutting off residents from the outside world. In extreme cases, police, fire and rescue, and armed forces units had to airlift residents from rooftops by helicopter.
While rescue workers are exhausted from grueling and deadly round-the-clock work, police have warned against "flood tourism" — telling outsiders to stay away. "They make affected residents feel like they are in a zoo," as Lars Brummer of the Koblenz Police Department told regional public broadcaster SWR. "They can also hinder rescue workers."
Hundreds of families have lost everything and become displaced. The cities of Cologne and Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia have set up emergency accommodations for evacuees and aid organizations have begun collecting donations and recruiting volunteers for what will be massive repair operations.
Local media have reported catastrophic damage to infrastructure, public property and private businesses. Rhineland-Palatinate Finance Minister Doris Ahnen promised tax waivers to flood victims. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the livelihood of many families in Germany, some victims might need much more than that to get back on their feet again.
Author: Monir Ghaedi
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer hit out at criticism that the federal government had not done enough to warn locals in the flood-hit areas of the country.
The former Bavarian premier said flood warnings were up to local authorities. "It would be completely inconceivable for such a catastrophe to be managed centrally from any one place. You need local knowledge," he told journalists during a visit to the Steinbach Reservoir in western Germany.
"I have to say that some of the things I’m hearing now are cheap election rhetoric,” Seehofer said at the site, where authorities say they no longer fear a dam breach. "Now really isn’t the hour for this."
The death toll from Germany's worst floods in living memory rose to 165 on Monday, authorities said.
Emergency services are continuing to search decimated towns in the west of the country for the dozens of people still missing.
A deluge of rain fell over western Germany over two days last week, sending torrents of water rushing down streets, sweeping away trees, cars and sheds, and destroying swathes of housing.
Senior German government sources have told the DPA news agency that the cabinet will approve a €400 million ($470 million) aid package for the flood-hit regions of the country.
The emergency funding and a longer-term reconstruction program is expected to be signed off later on Wednesday, DPA reports.
Cologne authorities say that the Steinbach Dam is no longer a risk to nearby towns and villages.
"A dam breach is now no longer to be feared," the local government said in a statement.Officials are set to organize "an orderly return" of residents to Swisttal and Rheinbach, who had been evacuated for safety reasons.
The heavy rains had led to water overflowing the top of the dam close to the town of Euskirchen.
Annalena Baerbock, the Green Party's candidate to take over from Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's election, has told ARD's Morgenmagazin that climate change will spark more natural disasters like the recent floods.
"These extreme weather events will increase," she told the German broadcaster.
Baerbock said the flooding highlighted the need to bring in climate protection measures more quickly.
If she became chancellor, Baerbock said she would massively expand wind power and other renewable energies.
At the center of the floods is the Eifel region, a low mountain range that stretches across eastern Belgium and western Germany, bordering the Rhine and Mosel rivers. In Germany, the Eifel lies in both federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.
The area is home to usually gentle, picturesque rivers that run through the towns. These are the rivers that burst their banks, flooding and laying to waste entire villages.
Heavy rain in such mountainous terrain is particularly dangerous because water collects in the valleys instead of spreading evenly across other surfaces. This is what happened in the Ahr region, a particularly narrow valley, where a sudden rise in water levels would leave residents with little chance to escape the flood.
The small towns affected in the Eifel area benefit mainly from tourist economic activity, which had slowed down significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The floods are likely to be a terrible setback for the region.
The mayor of Altenahr in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate fears that drinking water supplies could be limited for a long time after the devastating floods.
"It looks as if the infrastructure has been so badly damaged that there may be no drinking water in some places for weeks or even months," Cornelia Weigand told the Bild newspaper.
Weigand, who is an independent, said emergency water supplies would be required until the repairs were complete.
She also questioned whether all residents would return once the water had subsided. "Who's going to move back there where a flood of the century is going to be exceeded by a factor of three?"
The number of people to have died in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate from the flooding has risen to 117, Koblenz police said on Monday.
Authorities had reported the previous day that 112 people had lost their lives, with nearly 750 people injured.
Bavarian premier Markus Söder has said that Germany needs to speed up its fight against climate change.
The leader of the Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, was speaking to the broadcaster ARD.
"After all, this was a wake-up call," he said.
Söder said that he would bring forward new legislation to tackle the problem, which was already planned before the recent flooding.
Some areas of Bavaria have also been hit by high water levels, particularly in the Berchtesgaden area close to the border with Austria.
Dozens of people have been evacuated from their homes there.
Civil protection chief rejects criticism of warning systems
The head of Germany's federal office for civil protection and disaster assistance, Armin Schuster, has rejected criticism that more needs to be done to improve the country's warning system for extreme weather.
"The warning infrastructure has not been our problem, but how authorities and the population react sensitively to these to these warnings," Schuster told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday.
He said the organization, known by its German acronym BBK, issued 150 such warnings between Wednesday and Saturday.
German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, a Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker, said the recent floods are "the consequences of procrastination and hesitation" in fighting climate change.
She vowed that if the SPD won September's election, the center-left party would bring in tougher policies to help cut emissions.
Schulze pointed to expanding renewable energy sources, including wind and solar plants, adding that a stricter speed limit on Germany's autobahn network was also necessary.
"It immediately leads to lower CO2 emissions and costs us nothing," she said in an interview with RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Interior Minister Herbert Reul, a CDU lawmaker, said the state needed to improve how it responds to major disasters, but he rejected claims that its approach was fundamentally flawed.
"Not everything that could have worked 100 percent did so. Because in that, there would not have been any fatalities," Reul told the Bild newspaper.
But he added that the state's disaster response policy had "no major fundamental problems", while admitting there was "probably still work to be done" on coordinating relief efforts.
Before and after footage of the Ahr valley show just how much water was carried by the small river, spilling into the entire town and the dramatic devastation that followed.
The before and after shots show the extent of the flooding in Altenburg in Altenahr
For more before and after shots, click here.
The state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia said "the disaster is not over yet" because thousands of homes across the flood-hit region are without power or running water.
He added that all levels of government were moving "as quickly as possible" to disburse aid to the victims of the extreme weather.
Cologne police said in a statement on Sunday that they had managed to reach 700 people who had been declared missing. There are now just 150 people who they have not yet been able to get hold of in the regions around Cologne and Bonn.
A spokesperson for the German Meteorological Service (DWD) defended its role saying the agency had "done what it was supposed to do."
The DWD warned local authorities of the expected weather pattern, but often these messages were not passed on, the spokesperson told German broadcaster ZDF.
In Germany, local districts are responsible for deciding relevant measures, not the DWD.