German Cabinet approves some $472 million in first flood aid

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a press conference in Muenstereifel, Germany, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Merkel and North Rhine-Westphalia's Prime Minister Laschet visited Bad Muenstereifel, which was badly affected by the storm. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP, Pool)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a press conference in Muenstereifel, Germany, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Merkel and North Rhine-Westphalia's Prime Minister Laschet visited Bad Muenstereifel, which was badly affected by the storm. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP, Pool)

Credit: Oliver Berg

Credit: Oliver Berg

Germany’s Cabinet has approved a roughly 400 million-euro ($472 million) package of immediate aid for flood victims and vowed to get started quickly on rebuilding devastated areas

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Cabinet on Wednesday approved a roughly 400 million-euro ($472 million) package of immediate aid for flood victims and vowed to start quickly on rebuilding devastated areas, a task that is expected to cost well into the billions.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the package, financed half by the federal government and half by Germany's state governments, to help people deal with the immediate aftermath of last week's flooding would increase, if more money is needed.

“We will do what is necessary to help everyone as quickly as possible," Scholz said.

At least 171 people were killed in Germany, well over half of them in Ahrweiler county, near Bonn. when small rivers swelled quickly into raging torrents on Wednesday and Thursday following persistent downpour. Another 31 died in neighboring Belgium, bringing the death toll from floods in both countries to 202.

The deluges also destroyed or severely damaged homes. Authorities in Germany's two affected states are responsible for details of who receives how much aid and how, but Scholz said they have indicated it will be “a very unbureaucratic process” that involves no means-testing.

“It's necessary to send a message quickly that there is a future, that we are taking care of it together, that this is a matter for us as the whole country to help with,” he added.

Germany has recent experience with major floods that hit swaths of the country, particularly the east, in 2002 and 2013. They caused extensive and costly damage. However, the death tolls were particularly high in last week’s floods, which were the worst in living memory in the areas they hit.

Scholz said the government aid for rebuilding after the 2013 floods has totaled around 6 billion euros ($7 billion) so far and more aid might be required this time.

“There is nothing we need to delay,” he told reporters in Berlin. “The pledge we want to give now is that this help with rebuilding can begin straight away...so that everything necessary can be done to restore infrastructure, damaged houses, damaged schools, hospitals, put in order anything that was destroyed there."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to a badly damaged town on Tuesday that she hopes getting money to people “is a question of days.”

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he hopes for a rough assessment of the damage by the end of the month, after which federal officials and state governors will have to meet to discuss the way forward.

He and Scholz indicated that people can expect reconstruction aid whether or not they were insured for “elementary damage” from events such as floods, which many in Germany are not, though insurance likely will be taken into account in determining details. Merkel has expressed skepticism about making such insurance obligatory, arguing that it could produce unaffordable premiums, but some other German officials advocate it.

Seehofer said there will have to be “a broad debate about safeguard systems” for the future given that natural disasters are likely to become more frequent and more destructive.

Scholz concurred, adding: “in terms of what's going on now, we have to help. I would argue against being cynical and being heartless. This is a big disaster, we have to help and that has to be the first priority, rather than any principles.”

The head of an organization representing German insurance companies said it expects insured damage to total 4 billion to 5 billion euros ($4.7 to 5.9 billion) in the two German states that suffered the worst damage.

It will likely exceed the damage of 4.65 billion euros caused by flooding in 2002 that submerged parts of Dresden and other eastern German areas, German Insurance Association chief executive Joerg Asmussen said. That, he added, makes what happened last week “one of the most devastating storms of the recent past.”

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz hands a bouquet of flowers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on occasion of her birthday on July 17, as they arrive for the weekly German cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany,  Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Axel Schmidt/Pool Photo via AP)
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz hands a bouquet of flowers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on occasion of her birthday on July 17, as they arrive for the weekly German cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Axel Schmidt/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Axel Schmidt

Credit: Axel Schmidt

Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz attends a press conference on federal flood aid in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt, Pool)
Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz attends a press conference on federal flood aid in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt, Pool)

Credit: Axel Schmidt

Credit: Axel Schmidt

Excavators remove debris from the streets of the village after the flood in Dernau, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood destroyed numerous houses here as well. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
Excavators remove debris from the streets of the village after the flood in Dernau, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood destroyed numerous houses here as well. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

Credit: Thomas Frey

Credit: Thomas Frey

A house is completely torn open after the flood, behind it a destroyed bridge can be seen in Marienthal, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood has also destroyed numerous houses here. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
A house is completely torn open after the flood, behind it a destroyed bridge can be seen in Marienthal, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood has also destroyed numerous houses here. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

Credit: Thomas Frey

Credit: Thomas Frey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, informs herself in the district of Iversheim about the situation in the flood-affected area and meet victims of the flood disaster Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Wolfgang Rattay/Pool Photo via AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, informs herself in the district of Iversheim about the situation in the flood-affected area and meet victims of the flood disaster Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Wolfgang Rattay/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Wolfgang Rattay

Credit: Wolfgang Rattay

Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz, right, and Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer attend a press conference on federal flood aid in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt, Pool)
Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz, right, and Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer attend a press conference on federal flood aid in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt, Pool)

Credit: Axel Schmidt

Credit: Axel Schmidt

A house is completely torn open after the flood in Marienthal, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood destroyed numerous houses here as well. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)
A house is completely torn open after the flood in Marienthal, Germany, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The flood destroyed numerous houses here as well. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

Credit: Thomas Frey

Credit: Thomas Frey

Markus Soeder, right, chairman of the CSU and Bavarian minister-president, and Olaf Scholz, middle, federal finance minister and candidate for chancellor, talk with residents affected by flooding, Sunday, July 18, 2021, in Schoenau, Germany. (Felix Hoerhager/dpa via AP)
Markus Soeder, right, chairman of the CSU and Bavarian minister-president, and Olaf Scholz, middle, federal finance minister and candidate for chancellor, talk with residents affected by flooding, Sunday, July 18, 2021, in Schoenau, Germany. (Felix Hoerhager/dpa via AP)

Credit: Felix Hoerhager

Credit: Felix Hoerhager