German interior minister rejects criticism over lack of flood warnings

© Reuters. A woman carries a bag in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 19, 2021. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

STEINBACHTAL DAM, Germany (Reuters) -German interior minister Horst Seehofer rejected criticism the government had failed to warn people of last week’s floods, as the death toll from the country’s worst natural disaster in almost six decades rose above 160 people in Germany alone.

Flooding has devastated parts of Western Europe since last Wednesday, with the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as parts of Belgium, among the places worst-hit.

Entire communities were cut off without power or communications. Residents were trapped in their homes by flash floods and a number of houses collapsed, leaving what German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday described as “terrifying” scenes.

“It would be completely inconceivable for such a catastrophe to be managed centrally from any one place,” Seehofer he told journalists on Monday. “You need local knowledge.”

But Michael Theurer, a senior member of the opposition Free Democrats (FDP), said in an interview with news agency DPA that the high death toll revealed a “systemic failure” as the population was not sufficiently warned.

The opposition Linke party’s chief Susanne Hennig-Wellsow on Sunday called for Seehofer to step down.

Seehofer said in response that the German weather service issues warnings to Germany’s 16 states and from there to districts and communities that decide at a local level how to respond.

“It’s not Berlin that declares a state of emergency, that is done locally,” he said, adding that the channels of communication for which the federal government was responsible had worked.

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