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 rains caused flash floods in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia on July 14-15.
The cost of repairing the damage caused by the floods is expected to run into the billions of euros.
Prosecutors in the city of Koblenz — close to the Ahr Valley where 138 people died — said on 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 are likely to announce in the coming days whether they will launch a formal investigation.
Anger towards German officials was palpable on Monday during a visit by North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Armin Laschet to the village of Swisttal, where residents accused local and regional authorities of failing to sound sirens or issue other warnings on the night of the floods.
“You’re going to see it in the elections!” one man shouted at Mr Laschet, who is running to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s national election on September 26.
Mr Laschet’s personal approval ratings have suffered in recent polls, though his centre-right Union bloc remains ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats and the environmentalist Greens.