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Merkel calls for climate change action as she surveys flood damage

HEIMERSHEIM, Germany — The train station has been reduced to rubble, wrecked cars lie on the tracks and uprooted trees line the riverbank.

Hundreds in the village of Heimersheim were still without power as police combed the wreckage left by receded water on Sunday to look for bodies and potentially flammable material.

There were similar scenes across western Germany and other parts of Europe where the cleanup from last week’s disastrous flooding continued. At least 180 people have died, officials confirmed Sunday, thousands more are missing.

As the waters rose from the Ahr river, Zinat Hamsoro, 41, who lives in the normally tranquil Heimersheim, told NBC News she had been forced to climb and spend the night on a hill near the village.

“It happened so fast, and we weren’t warned,” she said Sunday. “The city council posted a warning message on its Facebook page, but by then it was too late.”

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In the nearby village of Schuld, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel surveyed the damage Sunday, meeting with survivors, many of whom had lost their homes, before traveling to the town of Adenau where she held a news conference.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called for more action on climate change as she surveyed the damage. Christof Stache / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

“The German language hardly knows any words for the devastation that has been caused here,” she said.

She said the force of the storms suggested they had “something to do with climate change,” adding, “We have to hurry, we have to get faster in the fight against climate change.”

Promising financial aid, Merkel, who will step down as German Chancellor later this year added had been sticking together was “incredibly reassuring.”

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said he will propose a package of immediate aid at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that more than 300 million euros ($345 million) will be needed.

Merkel’s speech came as officials in Germany confirmed that more than 150 people had died in the flooding. At least 27 people also lost their lives in neighboring Belgium.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Rhineland-Palatinate State Premier Malu Dreyer talk to helpers during their visit to the flood-ravaged village of Schuld on Sunday.Christof Stache / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

Elsewhere, in his first public appearance to the faithful in St Peter’s Square after major surgery, Pope Francis offered a prayer for the victims and for support of the “efforts of all to help those who suffered great damage”.

“I express my closeness to the populations of Germany, Belgium and Holland, hit by catastrophic flooding,” he said.

Experts have also said a failure to heed warnings about the intense weather was likely responsible for the magnitude of the crisis.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours—while determining the exact role it might play in a single event is difficult, these relentless rainfalls point to the crises people will continue to grapple with around the globe.

Claudio Lavanga reported from Heimersheim and Isobel van Hagen from London.

Adam Reiss contributed.

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