German prosecutors mull probe into flood warnings

International

Washed away supply lines lies on the bank of the river Ahr in front of the Kurhaus in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. The flood destroyed large parts of the infrastructure in the Ahr valley. Two and a half weeks after the flood disaster, the clean-up work is in full swing. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors are considering opening a formal investigation into possible failures by officials to properly warn the population about the devastating floods that occurred in the west of the country last month.

More than 180 people were killed in Germany and dozens remain missing after heavy rain caused flash floods in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia on July 14-15. The economic cost is expected to run into the billions of euros (dollars).

Prosecutors in the city of Koblenz — close to the Ahr valley where 138 people died — said in a statement Monday that the investigation concerns possible negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm as a result of late warnings or evacuation orders.

Residents of two flood-hit towns told The Associated Press that they were only warned shortly before the floods hit, and that the information they received from authorities was vague.

Koblenz prosecutors said they were reviewing media reports and official police investigations into recorded deaths, including those of 12 residents at an assisted-living facility in the town of Sinzig, to determine whether there was sufficient evidence that crimes had been committed.

Prosecutors plan to announce within the coming days whether they will launch a formal investigation, they said.

Anger toward German officials was palpable Monday during a visit by North Rhine-Westphalia Gov. Armin Laschet to the village of Swisttal, where residents accused local and regional authorities of failing to sound sirens or issuing other warnings on the night of the floods.

“You’re going to see it in the elections!” one man shouted at Laschet, who is running to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s national election on Sept. 26.

Laschet’s personal approval ratings have suffered in recent opinion polls, though his center-right Union bloc remains ahead of the center-left Social Democrats and the environmentalist Greens.

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