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German PM candidate seen laughing during visit to flood scene

German PM candidate seen laughing during visit to flood scene

The front-runner to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel was captured laughing on camera over the weekend as the country’s president delivered a statement on the devastating floods that have killed at least 164 people in western Germany.

Armin Laschet, 60, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state — one of two German regions badly hit by last week’s floods — was among a contingent of officials Saturday who visited the town of Erfstadt, where a dramatic rescue effort was being carried out after the ground gave way.

As German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed reporters afterward, Laschet was seen breaking out in laughter as he stood with a group of officials in the background.

Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the country’s rival center-left Social Democrats party, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Laschet’s behavior was “lacking in decency and appalling.

“They say that people’s character shows in times of crisis,” he said.

Laschet, the candidate supported by Merkel’s center-right Union bloc to be Germany’s next leader in September, delivered a mea culpa on Twitter for his ill-timed guffaw.

“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”

North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and CDU's candidate for Chancellery Armin Laschet (C)
The hashtag #Laschetlacht — Laschet laughs — was a top trending topic on Twitter.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Bild reported that Laschet and his companions could not hear what Steinmeier was saying at the time. But outrage over the pol’s laughter swept social media and the press as a distraught nation reeled from what Merkel called a “catastrophic” situation in the flood areas, Deutsche Welle reported.

The hashtag #Laschetlacht — Laschet laughs — was a top trending topic on Twitter.

The controversy came as German officials defended their preparations for the widespread flooding, which caught many people by surprise and left more than 190 victims dead in Western Europe. Still, the German government conceded that there were lessons to learn from the disaster.

So far, 117 people have been confirmed dead in Rhineland-Palatinate, 46 in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia and at least one in Bavaria, parts of which saw heavy rain and flooding over the weekend.

The widespread flooding caught many people by surprise and left more than 190 victims dead in Western Europe.
The widespread flooding caught many people by surprise and left more than 190 victims dead in Western Europe.
RHEIN-ERFT-KREIS HANDOUT/EPA-EFE

At least 31 people have died in Belgium from the extreme weather.

“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,” Germany Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Bild. “That isn’t about finger-pointing — it’s about improvements for the future.”

German federal and state authorities were assailed by opposition politicians for allegedly failing to warn people of the impending disaster, which came ahead of the national election.

But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer apparently tried to shuffle off the blame by claiming warnings were passed to local authorities, “who make decisions on disaster protection.

“I have to say that some of the things I’m hearing now are cheap election rhetoric,” Seehofer said during a visit to the Steinbach Reservoir, where a dam is feared to be in danger of collapsing. “Now really isn’t the hour for this.”

Crosses and gravestones on flooded graves at a cemetery in Erftstadt, Germany, 17 July 2021.
German federal and state authorities were assailed by opposition politicians for allegedly failing to warn people of the impending disaster.
EPA

On Sunday night, Schuster told ZDF TV that “half an hour before, it is often not possible to say what place will be hit with what quantity” of water, adding that 150 warning notices had been sent out through apps and the media.

He said “we will have to investigate” where sirens sounded and where they didn’t.

With Post wires

About the author

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James Partridge

James has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Stock Market Pioneer one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

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