Germany has approved a €400 million package of immediate aid for victims of last week’s floods and vowed to get started quickly on rebuilding the devastated areas.

Finance minister Olaf Scholz said the package, financed half by the federal government and half by Germany’s state governments, is to help people deal with the immediate aftermath of the flooding and will be expanded if needed.

“We will do what is necessary to help everyone immediately,” he said.

The government also expects to spend billions on rebuilding, but how much exactly won’t be clear until authorities have a better overview of the extent of the damage. But Scholz said that reconstruction efforts will get underway without delay.

‘We will do everything’

Visiting the badly damaged town of Bad Muenstereifel on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “we will do everything … so that the money comes quickly to people who often have nothing left but the clothes on their backs.”

“I hope this is a question of days,” she added. As for the long-term reconstruction effort, she said, restoring infrastructure “will take more than a few months”, pointing to the many bridges destroyed.

At least 171 people were killed in Germany when small rivers swelled quickly into raging torrents after persistent downpours last week, well over half of them in Ahrweiler county, near Bonn. Another 31 died in neighbouring Belgium, bringing the death toll in both countries to 202.

Germany has recent experience with major floods that hit swaths of the country’s east in 2002 and 2013, causing extensive and costly damage. However, the death tolls were particularly high in last week’s floods, which were the worst in living memory in the areas they hit.