Wolfgang Huste, like other German residents, knew that a flood was imminent. He says that he was not told how terrible it would be by anyone.
Ahrweiler’s 66-year old antiquarian bookseller said that the loudspeaker announcements at 8 p.m. on the 14th of July gave the first warning to evacuate buildings or to move to higher floors near the Ahr River. Huste heard an emergency siren blast, followed by the sound of church bells ringing. Then silence.
He said, “It was spooky like in a horror movie.”
Huste raced to save his car from an underground garage. The water was already at his knees when he placed it on the street. He was able to see his vehicle floating down the street five minutes later. He estimated that his shop, which contained books from the early 1500s, had suffered losses of more than 200,000 euro ($235,000).
Huste stated that the warning time was too short.
Many people are asking why emergency systems that were supposed to warn of imminent disasters didn’t work, considering the death toll in Germany’s floods last week and other countries, which was 210.
In some areas, sirens failed to work when electricity was cut. Other locations had no sirens and volunteer firefighters had to knock at doors of people to inform them what to do. German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that a monk was ringing a bell in a suburb of Wuppertal north of Cologne to warn people.
Huste admitted that no one could have foreseen the rapidity with which the water would rise, ripping through towns. He pointed out across the valley to the building of the German Federal Office for Civil Protection. This is where first responders from all over the country train for potential disasters.
Huste stated that “in practice, as we just witnessed, it didn’t work as well as it should.” “What the state should’ve done, it didn’t do. It didn’t do it until much later, at least not yet.
The European Flood Awareness System provided early warnings to German authorities. These alerts were sent through the official channels. They put firefighters on high alert, as well as users of disaster warning apps for smartphones. However, such apps are not widely used.
Since the flood, officials in the Ahr valley who set off disaster alarms on the first night of flooding have been quiet. In the Ahr valley alone, at least 132 people died.
The disaster response was handled by Rhineland-Palatinate authorities in Germany. However, they declined to comment on any mistakes made that night.
“People are seeing a life in ruin here. Thomas Linnertz is the state official responsible for the coordination of the disaster response. “I understand the anger well. On the other hand, it was an unpredicted event.
Armin Schuster (head of Germany’s federal disaster agency BKK), admitted to public broadcaster ARD, that “things didn’t work as well” as they should have.
His agency is trying determine the number of sirens that were removed following the end the Cold War. Germany plans to also adopt the cell broadcast system that sends alerts to all phones in a specific area.
Heiko Lemke, a Sinzig resident, recalled that firefighters knocked on the doors of homes at 2 a.m. after floods had devastated Ahrweiler.
Lemke stated that despite a 2016 flood, no one had predicted the Ahr River waters to rise as high in his community.
He said, “They were evacuating persons.” “We were completely confused because we believed that it was impossible.”
Within 20 minutes, water had reached the family’s ground floor. But they decided that it was too dangerous to go out.
Daniela Lemke, his wife, said that “We wouldn’t have made it around the corner.”
Twelve residents of an assisted living facility nearby for people with disabilities were swept away in the flood. The police are investigating whether the staff of the facility could have done more for the residents. However, there is no indication that the authorities will be facing criminal charges for failing to issue timely warnings.
Experts predict that such floods will increase in frequency and severity due to climate change. Countries will need to adapt to this, including revising flood risk calculations, improving warning systems, and preparing for similar disasters.
Heiko Lemke now knows all about flood risk. He hopes that all of those things will come true.
He said, “But maybe it would even be better to leave,”