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Germany sets out flood relief funding, hopes of finding survivors fade

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People remove debris and rubbish, following heavy rainfalls, in Bad Muenstereifel, North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany, July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

A relief official dampened hopes on Wednesday (21 July) of finding more survivors in the rubble of villages devastated by floods in western Germany, as a poll showed many Germans felt policymakers had not done enough to protect them, write Kirsti Knolle and Riham Alkousaa.

At least 170 people died in last week's flooding, Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century, and thousands went missing.

"We are still looking for missing persons as we clear roads and pump water out of basements," Sabine Lackner, deputy chief of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

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Any victims that are found now are likely to be dead, she said.

For immediate relief, the federal government will initially provide up to €200 million euros ($235.5m) in emergency aid, and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said more funds can be made available if needed.

That will come on top of at least €250m to be provided from the affected states to repair buildings and damaged local infrastructure and to help people in crisis situations.

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Scholz said the government would contribute to the cost of rebuilding infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The full extent of the damage is not clear, but Scholz said that rebuilding after previous floods cost about 6 billion euros.

Interior minister Horst Seehofer, who faced calls from opposition politicians to resign over the high death toll from the floods, said there would be no shortage of money for reconstruction.

"That is why people pay taxes, so that they can receive help in situations like this. Not everything can be insured," he told a news conference.

The floods are estimated to have caused more than 1 billion euros in insured losses, actuary company MSK said on Tuesday.

The overall damage is expected to be much higher as only around 45% of homeowners in Germany have insurance that covers flood damage, according to figures from Germany's insurance industry association GDV.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio the aid would include funds to help businesses such as restaurants or hair salons make up for lost revenue.

The floods have dominated the political agenda less than three months before a national election in September and raised uncomfortable questions about why Europe's richest economy was caught flat-footed.

Two-thirds of Germans believe that federal and regional policymakers should have done more to protect communities from floods, a survey by the INSA institute for German mass-circulation paper Bild showed on Wednesday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting the devastated town of Bad Muenstereifel on Tuesday, said authorities would look at what had not worked after being widely accused of not being prepared despite weather warnings from meteorologists.

($1 = €0.8490)

Disasters

Fire in North Macedonian COVID-19 hospital kills at least 14

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Fourteen people were killed and 12 seriously injured when a fire broke out in a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients in the North Macedonian town of Tetovo late on Wednesday (8 September), the Balkan country's health ministry said today (9 September), writes Fatos Bytyc, Reuters.

The prosecutor's office said DNA analyses would be needed to identify some of the victims, all of them patients in a serious condition. No medical staff were among the victims.

The total of 26 patients were accommodated in the COVID-19 hospital at the time of the fire, said Health Minister Venko Filipce.

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"The remaining 12 patients with life-threatening injuries are being taken care at the Tetovo hospital," Filipce said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the fire was caused by an explosion, and that the investigation was under the way. Local media said that a canister with oxygen or gas may have exploded.

A hospital for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients is seen after a fire broke out, in Tetovo, North Macedonia, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Local media showed images of a huge blaze which broke out around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) at the hospital in the town's west as firefighters raced to the scene. The fire was extinguished after a few hours.

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The accident occurred on the day when North Macedonia marked the 30th anniversary of its independence from the former Yugoslavia. All official celebrations and events were cancelled on Thursday, said the office of President Stevo Pendarovski.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in North Macedonia since mid-August, prompting the government to introduce stricter social measures such as health passes for cafes and restaurants.

The country of 2 million reported 701 new coronavirus infections and 24 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The town of Tetovo, mainly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, has one of the country's highest number of coronavirus cases.

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Disasters

In Ida's wake, Louisiana faces a month with no power as heat soars

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South Louisiana braced for a month without electricity and reliable water supplies in the wake of Hurricane Ida, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US Gulf Coast, as people faced suffocating heat and humidity, write Devika Krishna Kumar, Nathan Layne, Devikda Krishna Kumar in New Orleans, Peter Szekely in New York, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, Maria Caspani in New York and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta.

The storm killed at least four people, officials said, a toll that might have been much larger if not for a fortified levee system built around New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.

(Graphic of Hurricane Ida hitting Gulf Coast)

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By early Tuesday, about 1.3 million customers were without power 48 hours after the storm made landfall, most of them in Louisiana, said PowerOutage, which gathers data from U.S. utility companies.

Officials were unable to complete a full damage assessment because downed trees clogged roads, said Deanne Criswell, chief of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Compounding the suffering, the heat index in much of Louisiana and Mississippi reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), the National Weather Service said.

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"We all want air-conditioning ... Even if you have a generator, after so many days they fail," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

"Nobody is satisfied" with the estimate that power might not be restored for 30 days, he added, expressing hope that the 20,000 line workers in the state and thousands more en route could finish sooner.

President Joe Biden offered federal help in restoring power during a call with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the chiefs of two of the Gulf Coast's largest utilities, Entergy (ETR.N) and Southern Co (SO.N), the White House said.

At Ochsner St. Anne Hospital southwest of New Orleans, 6,000-gallon tanker trucks pumped fuel and water into tanks to keep its air-conditioning running. The medical center closed to all but a few emergency patients.

New Orleans' restaurants, many shut ahead of the storm, also face an uncertain future because of a lack of electricity and facilities, reviving memories of the difficulties that plagued businesses for weeks in the wake of Katrina.

"This is definitely feeling like Katrina," said Lisa Blount, a spokesperson for the city's oldest eatery, Antoine's, which is a landmark in the French Quarter. "To hear the power is potentially out for two to three weeks, that is devastating."

Even the power generators were hazardous. Nine people in St. Tammany Parish northeast of New Orleans were taken to hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas-fueled generator, media said.

A man walks past a damaged electric line in a street after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello
A destroyed car is seen under the debris of a building after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, U.S., August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Roughly 440,000 people in Jefferson Parish south of New Orleans may be without electricity for a month or more after utility poles toppled, Councilman Deano Bonano said, citing comments by power officials.

"The damage from this is far worse than Katrina, from a wind standpoint," Bonano said in a telephone interview.

Among the four dead were two killed in the collapse of a southeastern Mississippi highway that critically injured 10 more. One man died attempting to drive through high water in New Orleans and another when a tree fell on a Baton Rouge home.

Swampy areas south of New Orleans took the brunt of the storm. High waters finally receded from the highway to Port Fourchon, Louisiana's southernmost port, leaving a trail of dead fish. Seagulls swarmed the highway to eat them.

Port Fourchon suffered extensive damage, with some roads still blocked. Officials were only letting through emergency responders to Grand Isle, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. It could take weeks for roads to be cleared, they said.

A line of cars stretched at least a mile from a gas station stocked with fuel in Mathews, a community in Lafourche parish.

More than half the residents of Jefferson Parish rode out the storm at home, Bonano said, and many were left with nothing.

"There are no grocery stores open, no gas stations open. So they have nothing," he said.

The weakened remnants of the storm dumped heavy rain in neighboring Mississippi as it traveled toward Alabama and Tennessee. Heavy rainfall and flash flooding were possible on Wednesday (1 September) in the mid-Atlantic region and southern New England, forecasters said.

Sheriff's deputies in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana were investigating the disappearance of a 71-year-old man after an apparent alligator attack in the flood waters.

The man's wife told authorities that she saw a large alligator attack her husband on Monday in the tiny community of Avery Estates, about 35 miles (55 km) northeast of New Orleans. She stopped the attack and pulled her husband from the water.

His injuries were severe, so she took a small boat to get help, only to find her husband gone when she returned, the sheriff's office said in a statement.

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Disasters

EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to deliver emergency aid to Haiti following earthquake

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An EU Humanitarian Air Bridge operation consisting of two flights is delivering more than 125 tonnes of life-saving materials to humanitarian organizations active in Haiti, as part of the EU response to the earthquake that hit the country on 14 August. The first flight arrived in Port-au-Prince on Friday (27 November) while a second flight is expected to reach the country in the coming days. Cargo includes medical equipment, medicines, water, sanitation and hygiene items and other material supplied by humanitarian partners from the EU.

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: "At this critical time, the EU continues to support people in Haiti who are suffering the consequences of the terrible disaster that hit the country. Medical assistance, shelter and access to water are urgent needs that cannot be left unheard. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the EU and its partners, together with the Haitian authorities, vital assistance is being delivered to help the people of Haiti to survive this challenging time.”

Since the beginning of 2021, the EU has mobilized more than €14 million in humanitarian aid for Haiti, focusing on disaster preparedness, emergency response to the food crisis as well as meeting the needs generated by the increase in gang-related violence, forced displacement and forced repatriation. Following the devastating earthquake of 7.2 magnitude that hit Haiti on 14 August, the EU released €3 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to address the most pressing needs of the affected communities. The press release is available online.

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