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FLOODS

Flood anniversary prompts sadness and soul-searching in Germany

Germany on Thursday paid tribute to more than 180 people killed in severe floods a year ago, as concerns mount over climate change and the country looks to overhaul its planning for future disasters.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier Ahr Valley floods
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R), Rhineland-Palatinate's State Premier Malu Dreyer (L) and the winegrower look at photos taken during the floods which that have been attached on a grid during their visit to the vineyard Meyer-Nakel in Dernau, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked on a tour of the stricken Ahr valley, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz was to attend a memorial ceremony in the hard-hit town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

A series of events are also planned in neighbouring Belgium, where 39 people were killed in the deluge.

“I came here again on this anniversary of the flood’s horror to show that we haven’t forgotten the people of the Ahr valley,” Steinmeier said. “We know how many are still struggling to rebuild their homes.”

Severe floods pummelled parts of the German Rhineland over two days in July last year, ripping through entire towns and villages and destroying bridges, roads, railways and swathes of housing.

IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Germany’s catastrophic floods 

Between 100 and 150 millimetres (four and six inches) of rain fell between July 14th and 15th, according to the German weather service — an amount that would normally be seen over two months.

Forecasters had issued warnings, yet many residents were simply unaware of the risks of such violent flooding, with dozens found dead in their cellars.

The disaster prompted criticism of Germany’s flood warning system and a criminal inquiry was opened into local officials for “negligent homicide”.

The government has since pledged to introduce phone alerts in the form of “cell broadcasting” and to reinstall sirens, many of which have been taken down in recent years.

‘Major failures’

Introducing a new disaster management plan on Wednesday, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser admitted there had been “major failures over the past years and decades”.

The government is planning a new annual civil protection day from 2023 to raise awareness of how to respond in a disaster and “make our country more crisis-proof”, Faeser said.

The disaster also raised concerns about climate change, with one international study showing that man made global warming had made the floods up to nine times more likely.

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler after floods

Damaged pipelines in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A year on, Germany is set for more extreme weather with temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) expected this week as a heatwave sweeps across Europe.

Ralph Tiesler, president of the BBK federal disaster management agency, told the Funke media group on Wednesday he believed some areas in Germany may become uninhabitable due to extreme weather events.

“I say that some areas should not be resettled due to climate change and the acute threat of severe weather disasters and floods,” he said.

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a town of 30,000 people famed for its thermal baths and wellness tourism, was among the areas hardest hit by the floods.

Over 2,000 people have since left the town, but the majority have chosen to stay and rebuild their homes — even as promised help is slow to arrive.

Relief package

A return to the way things were “will still take time”, town mayor Guido Orthen told AFP, with the rebuild very much a work in progress.

“We still have temporary infrastructure, temporary playgrounds, temporary schools, temporary roads that make life possible,” he said.

With former chancellor Angela Merkel still in charge at the time of the floods, the government pledged a total of €30 billion ($30 billion) in federal and state aid to help with the reconstruction effort.

Flood Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler

Shop owners and residents try to clear up the wreckage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler just days after the flood. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

READ ALSO: German flood victims struggle to rebuild communities a year on

But in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, only €500 million in aid has been handed out of the total €15 billion set aside. 

In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, €1.6 billion euros of government support has been approved for use, out of a total of €12.3 billion.

Frustration is building among those trying to rebuild their lives.

“We want to exist in the eyes of Germany,” Iris Muenn-Buschow told AFP from the dilapidated ground floor of her home in the town of Sinzig.

“We have the impression that everything else that goes on in the world is more important than what happens here in Germany,” she said. 

By Ina Fassbender with Femke Colborne in Berlin

Member comments

  1. With a great sadness we remember those, who lost their lives due to the disaster 2021 caused by flooding. Germany and other European countries “must urgently take steps to mitigate the risks associated with extreme flooding and other natural and human-induced hazard events, if future damage is to be averted” (https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02712-2)

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WEATHER

What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

Parts of Germany will see another heatwave this week as temperatures soar.

What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

The German Weather Service (DWD) has predicted that the mercury will climb in some regions of to around 34C this week. 

“After low pressure ‘Karin’ gave parts of Germany rain, sometimes in large quantities, high pressure ‘Piet’ is now back in pole position,” said meteorologist Lars Kirchhübel of the DWD.

This high pressure zone will dominate the weather in large parts of western and central Europe over the coming days, the weather expert said, adding that it will reach Germany too. 

On Monday temperatures remained fairly cool across the country after a weekend of showers, but they are set to climb over the course of the week, particularly on Wednesday and Thursday. Forecasters predict it could reach 32C in Stuttgart and 33C in Cologne on Thursday. Locally, temperatures could reach 34C. 

However, from the Oder and Neisse rivers to the Erzgebirge mountains and southeast Bavaria, denser clouds and some showers are to be expected. This is due to a high-level low pressure system over the Balkan region, according to forecasters. Short showers are also possible in the Black Forest.

“In most of the rest of the country, high ‘Piet’ will be able to hold its ground,” said Kirchhübel.

READ ALSO: Heavy rain in Bavaria swells rivers, but flooding avoided

At the end of the week, thunderstorms are forecast but temperatures are expected to remain high. 

August in Germany ‘too dry’

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, August as a whole – apart from a few areas in eastern Germany – will be too dry compared to the multi-year average.

The Black Forest, the High Rhine and the Allgäu to the Bavarian Forest, however, are not expected to have any major problems due to the high rainfall of the past few days.

“Looking at Rhineland-Palatinate, the southern half of Hesse, the western half of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Franconia shows a different picture,” said Kirchhübel. In the last 30 days, only about 10 percent of the usual level of precipitation fell in some places.

“At some stations, no precipitation at all has been measured in August,” added Kirchhübel, referencing Würzburg as an example.

Rainfall at the weekend caused the water in the Rhine river to rise slightly. In Emmerich, the water level reached a positive value again after the historic low of the past few days: in the morning, it showed three centimetres – an increase of six centimetres compared to the previous day.

The water level also rose by several centimetres at the other measuring points in North Rhine-Westphalia: in Cologne, the level rose to 80cm and in Düsseldorf to 38cm.

READ ALSO: Damaged freighter blocks traffic at drought-hit Rhine

Despite this encouraging trend, the Waterways and Shipping Authority said it did not expect a huge improvement in water levels in the foreseeable future due to more hot weather coming.

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