BERLIN－German officials defended their flood preparations in the face of raging torrents that caught many people by surprise and left more than 180 people dead in Western Europe. However, they also conceded they will need to learn lessons from the disaster.
Search and cleanup efforts across a swath of Western Germany, eastern Belgium and the Netherlands continued on Monday as floodwaters receded.
The death toll from Germany's worst floods in living memory rose to 165 on Monday. Many victims were found dead in sodden cellars after attempting to retrieve valuables, while others were swept away by the sheer force of the water.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the hard-hit town of Schuld on Sunday, calling the devastation "shocking" and urging the world to speed up efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
The downpours that led to usually small rivers swelling at vast speed in the middle of last week had been forecast, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage did not appear to find their way to many people on the ground－often in the middle of the night.
"As soon as we have provided the immediate aid that stands at the forefront now, we will have to look at whether there were things that didn't go well, whether there were things that went wrong, and then they have to be corrected," said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to the Bild newspaper.
"That isn't about finger-pointing－it's about improvements for the future."
The head of Germany's civil protection agency said the country's weather service had "forecast relatively well" and that the country was well prepared for flooding on its major rivers.
But Armin Schuster told ZDF television late on Sunday that "half an hour before, it is often not possible to say what place will be hit with what quantity" of water. He said his agency had sent 150 warning notices out via apps and the media.
Schuster could not yet say where the sirens sounded and where they did not－"we will have to investigate that".
Officials in the worst affected Rhineland-Palatinate state said they were well prepared for flooding, and municipalities had been alerted and ready.
But after visiting Schuld with Merkel on Sunday, the state's Interior Minister Roger Lewentz said: "We of course had the problem that the technical infrastructure-electricity and so on－was destroyed in one go. (Local authorities) tried very quickly to react.
"But this was an explosion of the water in moments," he said. "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."