Merkel defends German flood alerts on visit to wrecked town
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Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday defended Germany's warning systems against widespread criticism after catastrophic floods claimed the lives of at least 165 people.
On a visit to the hard-hit town of Bad Muenstereifel, whose scenic medieval centre was long a major tourist draw, the veteran leader pledged a thorough review of vulnerabilities in the system.
"This was flooding that surpassed our imagination when you see the destruction it wrought" despite last week's forecasts of torrential downpours, Merkel insisted.
"We have a very good warning system," she said as a few people in the crowd whistled in derision.
"Now we've got to look at what worked and what didn't work, without forgetting that this was flooding as we haven't seen in a long, long time."
She quoted the town's mayor who said the deluge was unmatched in 700 years of records.
Two states in western Germany were hit over two days last week, with rushing water sweeping away trees, cars and bridges and destroying homes, businesses and vital infrastructure.
As the scale of the flood disaster became clearer, questions mounted about whether enough was done to warn residents ahead of time.
Merkel said that under Germany's federal system, the Weather Service and the Federal Office for Population and Disaster Protection had passed on information quickly to local governments but that they were unable to evacuate people ahead of the rapidly rising waters.
"You can debate for a long time about the warning mechanisms," Merkel said, while stressing that country's mobile phone app Nina had worked as planned in the face of the impending disaster.
She said that while those whose homes still had WiFi received warning messages, many who were out as mobile phone networks collapsed were deprived of emergency information.
"Perhaps the good old siren is more useful than we thought," she said.