As of: 01/14/2022 5:10 p.m
Six months after the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley, the political process is still in its infancy. Why were warnings so late? Could the deaths have been avoided? About the difficult search for those responsible.
A committee of inquiry of the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament started work last October. He is supposed to deal with the flood disaster in the Ahr valley politically. The committee was set up at the request of the CDU and with the votes of all opposition factions, the governing factions of the SPD, Greens and FDP abstained.
“We had indications that human error had led to deaths of this magnitude,” explained the chairman of the CDU parliamentary group in the committee, Gordon Schnieder. The public prosecutor’s office clarifies the responsibility for action, but the committee clarifies the political responsibility: “Are there organizational errors, was there misconduct in reporting chains? Have things been misjudged? And is there someone who has to bear the political responsibility?”
Last December, the committee of inquiry began to take evidence and got an idea of the situation in the Ahr valley. It was about the geographical conditions, location and nature of the soil. The valley is narrow and the Ahr river bed sometimes makes extreme curves, which can cause the water to accumulate heavily.
Investigations against ex-district administrator
The Koblenz public prosecutor’s office has been investigating against him since last August former district administrator of the Ahrweiler district and another member of the crisis team, to whom the district administrator, according to his own statements, had delegated the management of operations in disaster cases for years. It is about the initial suspicion of negligent homicide and bodily harm through omission. So far, the public prosecutor’s office has collected information and data and interviewed more than 200 witnesses, including many rescue workers.
The public prosecutor’s office now wants to clarify “whether and when and for whom it was foreseeable that there would be massive flooding with personal injury or even death.”
All data, including emergency calls received, should help to reconstruct the course of the disaster as accurately as possible. According to the current state of knowledge, the flooding reached the municipality of Schuld at around 5 p.m. and escalated before 7 p.m. sat. In Sinzig, the current situation began to develop dramatically with a massive increase in water levels from around 2 a.m.
In any case, the known times make it clear that several hours after the escalation in the upper reaches of the Ahr, people were still dying many kilometers downstream. Stephan Wefelscheid, chairman of the Free Voters in the U-Committee, is therefore convinced:
Sinzig’s deaths could have been avoided.
A total of 135 people died in the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate alone. Heavy rain was announced, and there was also a risk of flooding. The German Weather Service (DWD) had warned days before of extreme weather with flooding.
The State Office for the Environment forecast a level of five meters for Altenahr on the afternoon of July 14, but has since corrected it to around four meters based on data from the DWD. From 7.36 p.m. it predicted a level of five meters again, from 8.36 p.m. even a high of almost seven meters. For comparison: in 2016 there was a flood of 3.79 meters, which led to flooding and considerable damage.
Mayoress sounded the alarm
Cornelia Weigand, the mayor of the Altenahr community, confirmed tagesschau.dethat she called the district administrator’s office in the Ahrweiler district administration on July 14 at around 4:20 pm, “with the urgent request to trigger the disaster”. Weigand left that with a close employee of the district administrator. “The hope was that helicopters for an air rescue would be on site in the evening and be able to carry out rescue flights.” Weigand had hoped for the Bundeswehr or appropriately equipped units from the neighboring regions.
An early alarm would also have ensured that otherwise external emergency services might have been able to help out when the tide rose.
In the end, the district probably only declared the emergency after 11 p.m., according to Weigand.
Warning message via Katwarn
According to the public prosecutor, the Ahrweiler district issued a warning via Katwarn shortly after 11 p.m., according to which people should leave their homes 50 meters to the right and left of the Ahr. It was also announced on the district’s Facebook page that the district administrator had declared alarm level 5 and thus a disaster. “In this respect, the public was informed after 11 p.m. about the declaration of the so-called disaster, which does not mean that other notifications about the risk of flooding had not been made beforehand or that measures had not been taken,” explains the Koblenz public prosecutor’s office.
The committee of inquiry in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament is dealing with the political responsibility for the flood disaster. “We don’t assess guilt in a criminal sense. It’s possible that someone isn’t criminally prosecuted, but the misconduct in office is so serious that it’s no longer politically acceptable,” emphasizes Wefelscheid from the Free Voters.
Failure of the state government?
Members of the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate are also criticized: the interior minister Roger Lewentz, SPD, and the then environment minister and current federal family minister Anne Spiegel from the Greens.
According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Fire and Disaster Control Act, responsibility for commanding the disaster control situation lay with the district. Nevertheless, the interior minister visited the crisis team in Ahrweiler and left the district administration at around 7:30 p.m. “Such visits are intended to show that the state level can be addressed by those responsible on site. When I got there, I found a crisis team working in a concentrated manner,” Lewentz emphasized tagesschau.de. He then went to his private office.
At the time, we had a different assessment of the situation than what we saw the morning after.
Opposition politician Wefelscheid believes it is necessary to take a closer look at the role of the state government: “The interior minister was there in the evening hours for a briefing. And you have to clarify that, was there a recommendation to declare a disaster or not?” Even if the district administrator is responsible, the state has data, has information.
Interior Minister Lewentz said:
Based on the information available to me, I could not have foreseen that we would have to experience such a widespread, tsunami-like flood.
Wefelscheid also asks about the responsibility of the then Environment Minister: “Why didn’t Environment Minister Anne Spiegel sound the alarm? When the State Office for the Environment under her authority had declared the highest warning level in violet on the afternoon of July 14, according to which the Ahr region was threatened with flooding of built-up areas on a larger scale .”
The press office of the Ministry of the Environment announced on the day of the disaster that there was no risk of extreme flooding on the Rhine and Moselle. The chairman of the Free Voters criticizes:
The suspicion arises that they weren’t technically qualified enough to evaluate the weather data received in such a way that they recognized the drama of these tributaries.
The State Office for the Environment now assumes that the highest level in Altenahr on July 15 at around 2 a.m. was around ten meters. According to the state office, this is an event that statistically occurs less frequently than every 500 years.