Flood disaster in the Ahr valley: reconstruction and impending winter

Status: 15.09.2021 03:36 a.m.

Two months after the flood disaster, reconstruction in the Ahr Valley is in full swing. But craftsmen and building materials are scarce. The approaching winter is also causing concern – because many heating systems have been destroyed.

By Stephan Lenhardt, SWR

Frank Wershofen hardly knows where his head is. The plumbing and heating contractor from Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler and his employees have dismantled heating systems in the flood area in the past few weeks. “Thousands of systems are broken,” he says. The flood also hit his own company: the exhibition, the warehouse and some of the offices were under water. But he was able to save his emergency vehicles and some tools. Now is the time to rebuild. It has to be done quickly, because winter is approaching.

But the preparatory work in the basement is far from being done everywhere: the screed has to be new and the walls have to be plastered. “We cannot do this alone here in the flood area,” says Wershofen. According to the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts, around 600 companies on the Ahr are affected by the flood.

Help is coming from Oldenburg these days, for example. Almost 50 plumbers and electricians, including tools and materials, traveled around 400 kilometers by motorcade. They want to stay until the end of the week. Cehan San from the craftsmen’s guild in the north had coordinated the needs and the accommodation with his guild colleague Wershofen in the flood area. “We put off other jobs,” says San.

Arrived for the reconstruction – plumbing and heating contractors Sehan Can and Michael Richter are installing a new heating system.

Image: Cehan San

Install in chord

What is available is installed. Systems for mobile liquid gas tanks, oil and gas heating systems, provided the network is already up and running again. “It has to be done quickly. We want to be a role model for other installers in Germany.” You spend the night in pensions, in monasteries or in companies on the Ahr.

Even before the flood, it was not easy to get craftsmen. The corona crisis also caused bottlenecks and price increases for material. “Construction dryers are hard to come by within a radius of 100 kilometers and the prices are going through the roof,” says Kurt Krautscheid, President of the Koblenz Chamber of Crafts. The Chamber has put the “Handwerk builds on” platform online for local and supraregional craftsmen.

“It will be a great effort to be able to bundle the forces for this nationwide in the affected regions over the next few years, despite the shortage of skilled workers and materials that existed before the flood disaster,” says the Rhineland-Palatinate State Secretary for Economic Affairs, Petra Dick-Walther.

Welcome culture for non-local craftsmen

The chamber now also wants to send contact persons to the flood communities in order to personally help with the search for craftsmen. And: “You also need an infrastructure and a kind of welcoming culture for non-local craftsmen. Where can they get material, how can they find accommodation?” Asks Krautscheid.

The local energy supplier – the “Energieversorgung Mittelrhein evm” – is under pressure: 133 kilometers of natural gas pipelines, 8500 gas meters, 3400 house pressure regulators, and thousands of network connections in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler are damaged or destroyed. This also applies to a total of 16 Ahr crossings, which is why, among other things, two new, temporary pipes were laid under the Ahr.

Glimmer of hope gas supply

But there is also good news in the midst of the crisis: many pipes are under gas pressure again. The reconstruction is evidently going better than initially feared. “The use of even faster technical possibilities, but also our successful acquisition of specialist companies and skilled workers, essentially contributed to this,” explains evm board member Josef Rönz. He is currently assuming that the districts north of the Ahr will also be supplied in November.

However, the gas network in the Ahr Valley ends at the western end in the Walporzheim district. Smaller communities upstream have not yet been developed. Electric heating could overload the already fragile power grid in the flood area. Werner Sicken in Altenburg ordered a new oil heater the day after the flood. Because only last year he had renovated and also installed new oil tanks. At least they survived the flood. “Winter is just around the corner. It had to be quick,” he says. The oil heating is to be installed at the beginning of October. Later he might want to upgrade with a heat pump.

Heating containers and tiny houses

In the municipality of Mayschoss, the crisis team is initially relying on provisional solutions. Together with the University of Trier, for example, they have set up two mobile heating containers that warm up apartment buildings in a kind of mini-network. “This is now also a great opportunity,” says Sebastian Sonntag from the local Kristen staff. He sees long-term solutions after the winter.

Roads have been torn open, infrastructure has to be rebuilt – the opportunity for new gas or district heating lines. Many of the affected residents stayed in holiday apartments in the village. The community also wants to organize tiny houses. Sonntag hopes to bring people back to their homeland who initially found accommodation elsewhere. But as I said, it has to be done quickly. Because winter is coming.

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