After the flood disaster: “They are at the end of their nerves”

Ahen a resident calls out that it is of no use if the valley is rebuilt as it was, there is applause for the first time at the residents’ assembly in Altenahr. “It has now taken three months and we are not one step further,” shouts the man. “I can’t build my house now and do it again in three years,” says another. For around a week and a half, the authorities have been informing the citizens of the Ahr Valley about the reconstruction every evening.

From the upper part of the Ahr they slowly worked their way down to the Rhine. At the meetings, the dead are briefly remembered at first, then applications, building specifications and floodplains are discussed. Above all, however, it is about the question of how a safe life can be possible in the Ahr Valley. The evenings are not easy for the representatives of the state, district and municipality authorities. It is becoming clear that the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is finding it difficult to manage this enormous crisis, which requires answers on so many levels. “They are totally overwhelmed,” said a woman at the residents’ meeting in the packed church of Altenahr on Monday evening.

Up to 80 percent of the cost

Since the end of September, the residents of the Ahr Valley have been able to submit applications for the reconstruction of their houses and replacement of the destroyed household items. The federal and state governments are providing around 15 billion euros for the valley. A quick and as unbureaucratic procedure as possible is promised. Private individuals should receive up to 80 percent of the costs for a reconstruction according to today’s standards, in exceptional cases up to 100 percent. The same goes for companies.

But whether that is enough to keep the people in the valley remains to be seen. Because the representatives of the authorities cannot give an answer to the central questions of the citizens. For example, it is unclear what the flood protection concept for the Ahr should look like. In other words, it is unclear whether the rebuilt houses will one day be in a safe environment.

In the parish church of the Annunciation, a residents’ meeting will take place on October 11, 2021 to rebuild Altenahr.

Image: Lucas Bäuml

The disaster in mid-July killed 134 people and injured more than 760. The authorities had detailed forecasts of the horrific water levels, but there was hardly any warning. Many people were surprised by the masses of water while they were sleeping. Since then, science has called for a radical rethink in all areas, from house and road construction to agriculture – and, above all, it calls for large retention basins at the tributaries of the Ahr.

This is what the residents’ assembly in Altenahr is about again and again, but the representatives of the authorities only vaguely promise a study. According to representatives of the state environment ministry, there should be a flood protection concept that is to be drawn up together with the district and municipalities. At the end of October there is to be a meeting of the “flood partnership”.

Building without a protection concept

Andreas Christ, who is responsible for flood protection in the state environment ministry, promises that there will be “no thinking bans” in the process. A local resident points out that there have been plans for retention basins since the beginning of the last century. “When do we stop planning?” He asks. “Is there a deadline and what is the next step for us?” Asks a citizen? A representative of the authorities replied that the concept would be a “marathon”.

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