Death toll from European flooding passes 180 as rescuers search debris

(AP) - The death toll from flooding in Germany and Belgium climbed above 180 on Sunday after rescue workers dug deeper into debris left by receding waters.

Police put the toll from the hard-hit Ahrweiler area of western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state at 110 and said they feared the number may still rise.

In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 45 people were confirmed dead, including four firefighters.

Belgium has confirmed 27 casualties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to visit Schuld, a village near Ahrweiler that was devastated by the flooding, on Sunday.

Houses in the Ahr valley in the Walporzheim district are destroyed after extreme weather in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Saturday, July 15, 2021. Clean-up work begins in the areas affected by the storm. Days of heavy rain in Western Europe turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
Houses in the Ahr valley in the Walporzheim district are destroyed after extreme weather in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Saturday, July 15, 2021. Clean-up work begins in the areas affected by the storm. Days of heavy rain in Western Europe turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

Her visit comes after Germany’s president visited on Saturday and made it clear the area will need long-term support.

There was also flooding on Saturday in the German-Czech border area, across the country from where last week’s floods hit, and in Germany’s south-eastern corner and over the border in Austria.

Some 65 people were evacuated from their homes in Germany’s Berchtesgaden area after the Ache River swelled. At least one person was killed.

A flash flood swept through the nearby Austrian town of Hallein late Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter that heavy rain and storms were causing serious damage in several parts of Austria.

Houses and cars in the Ahr valley in the Walporzheim district are destroyed in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Clean-up work begins in the areas affected by the storm. Days of heavy rain in Western Europe turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
Houses and cars in the Ahr valley in the Walporzheim district are destroyed in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Clean-up work begins in the areas affected by the storm. Days of heavy rain in Western Europe turned normally minor rivers and streets into raging torrents this week and caused the disastrous flooding that swept away cars, engulfed homes and trapped residents. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said he will propose a package of immediate aid at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that more than 300 million euros (£257 million) will be needed.

And he said that officials must start setting up a rebuilding programme which, from experience with previous flooding, will be in the billions of euros.

Meanwhile, the front-runner to succeed Angela Merkel in Germany’s September election has apologised for a scene in which he was seen laughing in the background as the country’s president delivered a statement on the floods.

A man helps with the cleanup by carrying rubbish and debris after heavy rain and flooding along the Erft in Bad Münstereifel, Germany, Saturday, July 17, 2021. On the night of July 15, the Erft floods totally devastated the historic core of the city and flooded streets and shops. Gas, electricity and telephone lines were dangerously exposed. (Roberto Pfeil/dpa via AP)
A man helps with the cleanup by carrying rubbish and debris after heavy rain and flooding along the Erft in Bad Münstereifel, Germany, Saturday, July 17, 2021. On the night of July 15, the Erft floods totally devastated the historic core of the city and flooded streets and shops. Gas, electricity and telephone lines were dangerously exposed. (Roberto Pfeil/dpa via AP)

Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc, on Saturday, visited Erfstadt, which was the scene of a dramatic rescue effort after the ground gave way, with president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

While Mr Steinmeier gave a statement to reporters after the visit, Mr Laschet and a group of others stood in the background. Photos showed him turning to someone else and laughing.

Mr Laschet on Saturday tweeted: “The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us. So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”