BERLIN (AP) — German officials defended their actions ahead of last week’s devastating floods that caught many towns by surprise and left 196 people dead in Western Europe, but they conceded that lessons still need to be learned from the disaster.
As floodwaters receded Monday, authorities continued a search for more victims and intensified efforts to clean up a sodden swath of western Germany, eastern Belgium, and the Netherlands.
So far, 117 people have been confirmed dead in the worst-affected German region, Rhineland-Palatinate, while 47 were killed in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and at least one in Bavaria, parts of which saw heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. The death toll in Belgium was 31.
Authorities said they were likely to find more victims among destroyed homes.
Weather officials had forecast the downpours that led to even small rivers swelling rapidly, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage didn’t appear to have made it to many people in affected areas — often in the middle of the night.
Local authorities “tried very quickly to react,” said interior minister Roger Lewentz. “But this was an explosion of the water in moments. ... You can have the very best preparations and warning situations (but) if warning equipment is destroyed and carried away with buildings, then that is a very difficult situation.”
Cellphone networks also were knocked out by flooding.
Federal and state authorities faced criticism from some opposition politicians over the disaster, which comes as a national election looms in September.