Europe floods: Death toll reaches at least 9 as Merkel visits devastated areas

Spectators look at the overflooded old city of Passau, southern Germany, on June 3, 2013 as parts of the eastern and southern Germany were flooded due to heavy and ongoing rainfalls.
Christof Stache

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Europe continued to battle rising floods on Tuesday as the death toll acros affected regions reached at least nine and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited her country's hardest-hit cities and towns. 

At least seven people were reported dead in the Czech Republic, whose capital city Prague reamins on high alert, and another nine people are currently missing in Switzerland and Austria.

"The story is not yet over here," Czech Environment Minister Tomas Chalupa said.

Other reports said two people had been killed in Austria and that another two were missing. 

Merkel visited the city of Passau — where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers converge — on Tuesday, the first stop on her tour of Germany's most devastated areas.

Her staff dismissed accusations that her rapid visit to the flooded areas smacked of electioneering, but she will surely be aware that failure to respond in a timely way could backfire during a general election in September.

After a helicopter flight over the stricken region and a walk through the flooded Danube-side city of Passau, Merkel pledged the equivalent of $130 million in immediate aid.

"The main thing is that we make payments in an unbureaucratic way," she was quoted telling German media in the historic town. "We want to help - even if the water levels are slowly receding, there will be lasting damage."

“This is not just a once-in-a-hundred years event, it’s one you have to call exorbitant,” Merkel added

Around 4,000 German soldiers and more than 2,600 federal disaster workers and police were called in to sandbag flood-threatened areas and provide other assistance.

Merkel was also making stops in Pirna in Saxony and Greiz in Thuringia, Spiegel Online reported, as the flood levels were expected to rise further in several areas across Germany.

In 2002, a robust response the floods was seen as a factor in the re-election of Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroder later that year.

There has been criticism that the authorities have failed to carry out flood protection measures promised after the disastrous floods of 2002, but much of that has been directed at local and state authorities rather than Merkel's federal government.

The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that out of 351 anti-flood measures planned in the eastern state of Saxony after 2002, only 80 have been carried out and just over a quarter of the planned 280 miles of new levees were built.

In many cases, popular pressure appears to have persuaded local authorities to drop some projects, as the supposedly once-in-a-century nature of the 2002 deluge removed the urgency of building new flood defenses.

Saxony state parliamentarian Andreas Heinz complained riverside residents had campaigned against their own protection. "There are people affected who say, 'I don't want a higher dam because then I can only see the dam and don't have a view,'" he was quoted telling Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The world’s largest reinsurance company, Munich Re, said it will take “several weeks” to assess the total losses brought on by the flooding. Economists have said the damages could reach $1.78 billion. 

Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have also been hit by what is being called the worst flooding Europe has experienced in a decade. In 2002, 17 people died in the Czech Republic from heavy floods that inflicted damage that cost $26 billion.

People from around Europe sent BBC News their shocking on-the-ground photos and first-hand accounts of the floods. 

More from GlobalPost: Central Europe braces for major flooding

A number of academic studies have linked the increasing frequency of flooding in Germany and other parts of central Europe to climate change, so the latest calamity might give a boost to the Green party. Opinion polls before the floods already show the party coming third with around 14 percent of the vote.