An eagerly awaited witness does not appear. Another refused to testify. And the district administrator, who is at stake, is also silent. Investigators and neighbors still bring interesting details about the flood night on the Ahr to light.
Ex-Ahr district administrator Jürgen Pföhler warned some neighbors about a year ago on the night of the flood, but did little to avert the catastrophe with at least 134 deaths: investigators from the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) and Pföhler’s neighbors in the state parliament’s flood catastrophe investigation committee in Mainz have this testified.
The CDU politicians have made almost no efforts of their own to avert the flood disaster, said an LKA investigator. “He has taken himself to safety and warned a few neighbors in his immediate vicinity.”
At least 135 people died in the flood disaster a year ago (July 14/15) in northern Rhineland-Palatinate, including 134 in the Ahr Valley. 766 people were injured. Roads, bridges, gas, electricity and water lines and around 9,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged over a length of 40 kilometers along the Ahr. Around 42,000 people are affected in the Ahr Valley alone, and around 65,000 nationwide.
Right to refuse to testify: district administrator and wife remain silent
Pföhler himself, visibly upset, made use of his right to refuse to testify, citing the criminal investigations against him. His wife also remained silent before the committee of inquiry about the flood night. On the phone she stated that Pföhler had been with her that evening and had been away from time to time, the LKA official reported.
Some neighbors from Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler said Pföhler asked them to evacuate their homes around 10:15 p.m. A neighbor had observed that his red Porsche was being driven away late in the evening and was surprised because it was usually only driven on Sundays.
No general evacuation
It only became clear to her the next day, when she met a young man in front of her house, that there had been no general evacuation, reported a 49-year-old neighbor who lived as a tenant right next to Pföhler in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. The young man spent the night of the flood with his family in a stairwell and knew nothing about an evacuation.
However, she herself was there when the district administrator asked her landlord to leave the house on July 14, 2021 at around 10:20 p.m., the 49-year-old reported. She then had her parents pick her up immediately. Committee chairman Martin Haller (SPD) pointed out that around 11:15 p.m. there was an official request for evacuation.
“The location should have been known to him”
“By 10 p.m. at the latest, he (Pföhler) should have been reasonably aware of the situation in the Ahr Valley and what might be coming to Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler,” said the 59-year-old LKA investigator. After 11 p.m., 87 people died in Bad Neuenahr and Sinzig.
By 8 p.m. at the latest, Pföhler knew that it had to be assumed that the risk of flooding on the Ahr was “generally very high” and that flash floods and flooding were to be expected, said the police officer. Pföhler also knew that the water level in Altenahr had actually reached 5.09 meters and was thus well above that of the so-called flood of the century in 2016. In addition, the former district administrator was aware that several hundred forces had been deployed, people had to be rescued and helicopter deployments were no longer possible.
The highest-level Katwarn warning only went out at 11:09 p.m., he said. According to witnesses, Pföhler was only briefly in the Technical Operations Center (TEL) twice, once at around 7.20 p.m. to meet Interior Minister Roger Lewentz (SPD) and once before, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The operations management was completely understaffed and, from a certain point in time, completely overwhelmed, said the LKA official. The volunteer fire and disaster control inspector (BKI) did not have time to assess the situation in peace and was part of the casework, but not a head of operations. Pföhler explained to the police that he was not in charge of operations that day because he had already transferred this function to the BKI “permanently and generally” in 2018. The public prosecutor’s office is also investigating against him.
Important witness cancels
An evaluation of Pföhler’s cell phone showed that the district administrator at the time had most frequent contact with his closest employee in the district administration during the critical hours, as an LKA expert reported. The second most frequent number – 13 calls – belongs to a woman from the Ahr Valley who was saved as “Nring” in her mobile phone.
There were also text messages: At 0.50 a.m., for example, Pföhler wrote to “Nring”: “Disaster, dead, injured, people on roofs, no helicopter, power failures, our house is flooded, I’m at the end.” The woman was supposed to testify this Friday as a witness, but had canceled her summons the night before, the committee rated the reasons as “still sufficient”, as Haller said. Now it should be heard next Friday (July 15).