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Belgium holds day of mourning for flood victims, Merkel tours 'surreal' scene

Europe Floods Belgium day of mourning
Posted at 8:01 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 08:01:13-04

BRUSSELS — Belgium is holding a day of mourning for the victims of last week's devastating floods, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making her second visit to the region worst hit by the disaster that left nearly 200 people dead in the two nations.

The Belgian king and queen visited the eastern town of Verviers on Tuesday to console people who had lost loved ones or most of their possessions as torrents swept through villages in eastern Belgium, taking at least 31 lives.

In Germany, 165 people have been confirmed dead.

Authorities said they were likely to find more victims among destroyed homes.

During her tour of the damage in the village of Schuld on Tuesday, Merkel called the scene "surreal" and "ghostly."

"It is shocking — I would almost say that the German language barely has words for the devastation that has been wreaked," Merkel said at a news conference in a nearby town.

Merkel said authorities will work to "set the world right again in this beautiful region, step by step," and her Cabinet will approve an immediate and medium-term financial aid program on Wednesday.

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.