Travel chaos as deadly storm strikes Germany

At least one person died after a storm dubbed "Eberhard" wreaked havoc across Germany.

Travel chaos as deadly storm strikes Germany
A fallen tree lies on three cars in Düsseldorf's Cecillienallee. Photo: DPA

Trees fell, buildings were damaged and the traffic network was severely hit as high winds and rain battered western and southern parts of the country, signalling that winter isn't quite over yet despite the recent mild temperatures.

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A 47-year-old man died near Bestwig in the Sauerland region when an uprooted tree fell on the car he was driving.

On Sunday afternoon, train operator Deutsche Bahn cancelled services in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the most populous federal state, with far-reaching consequences for the entire country.

The German Weather Service (DWD) urged people to look out for weather updates.

Passengers travelling on Monday were warned to expect knock-on delays and cancellations as the clean-up got underway.

A notice on the website said: “The clean-up work is still going on. We assume, however, that the storm damage will still lead to impairments in Deutsche Bahn's rail traffic today.”

Long-distance and regional trains were in operation on Monday morning but there were still some disturbances.

“Commuters should expect delays and keep up to date with the latest information,” a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bahn said Monday.

A “stable operation” on the network was in place Monday, however, some services were cancelled, including on the high-speed line between Cologne and Frankfurt am Main.

There were still restrictions on the routes between Cologne – Dortmund, Altenbeken – Hamm (Westphalia) and between Rosenheim and Kufstein.

A noticeboard at Cologne main station shows the train cancellations and delays. Photo: DPA

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn said tickets held by affected customers that are valid for Sunday and Monday will remain valid for long-distance transport, and can either be cancelled free of charge or used flexibly until a week after the end of the disruption.

There were also cancellations at airports, including in Frankfurt am Main. At Cologne/Bonn Airport, two planes had to be diverted to other airports because of the strong gusts.

Village cut off, fallen trees cause danger

In Hagen, NRW, the storm tore off metre-high cladding from a 14-storey high-rise building, reported Focus Online. Fire and rescue teams secured the damaged area. Residents were initially not allowed to leave the high-rise due to the dangerous situation.

On the A7 near Kirchheim in Hesse a tree fell onto the road, blocking the hard shoulder and the main traffic lane. The police secured the area and closed part of the motorway.

In Duisburg, NRW, a loading crane weighing several tons was blown over and half of it landed in the river Rhine. Fortunately, the cab was unoccupied at the time. Ship traffic had to be routed around the danger area.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the storm damaged the town hall in Bitburg. In Trier, a tree fell on a car that was being driven. The driver was unharmed, a spokesman for the fire brigade said.

Meanwhile, in Thuringia, a village was cut off from the outside world. Several trees fell and blocked the only connecting road to Föritztal-Mönchsberg (in the Sonneberg district), according to police. Electricity in the village was also cut off.

In Baden-Württemberg and parts of Bavaria as well as Saxony, the German Weather Service (DWD) warned of hurricane-like gusts. On Feldberg in the Black Forest, wind speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour were measured.

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Throughout the region, several ski lifts ceased operation, according to a spokesperson for the lift operators. According to the police headquarters, there were about 900 storm-related deployments throughout Bavaria on Sunday evening.

In Backnang near Stuttgart a tree fell on a house. The fire brigade rushed to the scene and closed off the area, while additional rescue teams were requested. Nobody was reportedly injured, however, there was substantial damage to the house. 

Firefighters in Frankfurt try to secure the tin roof of a church tower in the district of Gallus, which had been torn loose by the storm. Photo: DPA

Winter weather returns

On Monday, Germany can expect wet weather, with some areas facing hailstones or snow; a sure sign that spring hasn't fully arrived yet.

A man walks with a child to the bus stop in the snow near Kassel, Hesse. Photo: DPA.

Across the country, icy conditions were expected. The German Weather Service (DWD) also predicted occasional rain and snow showers in Berlin/Brandenburg, Wiesbaden, Erfurt and parts of Baden-Württemberg, with lows of 2C.

According to meteorologists, the rain and snow showers will decrease during Monday night, but there is a danger of it being slippery underfoot due to the wet ground freezing over. 

Marcus Beyer, of the DWD, said the weather will remain “changeable” for the rest of the week, with some further high winds, stormy weather and cold air.

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How the Rhine’s low water levels are impacting Germany

Shocking photos show just how bad the river Rhine looks at the moment after weeks of dry weather. Experts are warning that extreme low water levels are affecting German industry and could hit consumers.

How the Rhine's low water levels are impacting Germany

What’s happening?

Due to the prolonged hot weather and little rainfall in recent weeks, the water levels of the Rhine, one of Europe’s biggest rivers, have dropped sharply. In several places, including near Koblenz, the water level is below one metre. Normal levels here would be 1.50 to 2 metres at this time of year.

Although the Rhine is still carrying more water than in autumn 2018, when the lowest water levels since records began were recorded, it is now moving into this range. At a key measuring point in Kaub near Koblenz, it was just 25 centimetres in 2018. Currently, the water level at this station is 51 centimetres.

The dried up water is causing major problems for German factories which rely on deliveries by ship along the 1,232 km Rhine River.

Weeks of dry weather across Europe have drastically hit water levels on major waterways, and resulted in drought restrictions in some countries. The whole of France has been on a drought alert since the beginning of August.

What does low water on the Rhine mean for shipping?

The Rhine river is important for German inland navigation. Many large industrial centres are located on the river and use it for supplies with raw materials. This includes the BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen and the ThyssenKrupp blast furnaces in Duisburg. Fully loaded transport ships, however, need to have a certain amount of space below the water surface to be able to travel on the river.

A fully loaded transport ship needs at least 1.50 metres – and this is no longer guaranteed everywhere. Many barge operators are therefore only sailing with half or a quarter of the normal load. This means that deliveries become delayed because the same route has to be covered several times.

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What does the low water mean for industry on the Rhine?

Industrial companies that use the Rhine for deliveries have to pay more money, because ships have to sail more frequently, and there are fewer available cargo ships. In June, for example, transport in a liquid tanker from Rotterdam to Karlsruhe still cost €20 per tonne. Recently it climbed to €94 – almost five times as much.

The second disadvantage for industry is that because ships can transport fewer goods, deliveries are delayed so much that they sometimes no longer arrive in time for production. Nationwide, supplies are still sufficient at the moment, but there have been some issues. 

Which companies are most affected?

Energy company Uniper reported that there could be disruption at two of their power plants until September 7th. The two plants are operated with coal that’s normally delivered via the Rhine.

BASF, the speciality chemicals group Evonik and ThyssenKrupp are so far still able to maintain production from stocks and other sources. “However, we cannot completely rule out reductions in the production rates of individual plants for the next few weeks,” a BASF spokeswoman said.

How important is the Rhine for the German economy?

Although the entire water network used for inland navigation in Germany measures about 6,550 kilometres and includes canals as well as rivers, 80 percent of all goods transport takes place on the Rhine. Its water levels are therefore of massive importance to the German economy. Along with parts of the Elbe, the Weser, the Trave and the Kiel Canal, it is the only waterway that the largest inland vessels can navigate.

The level of the Rhine has dropped sharply.

The water level of the Rhine has dropped in recent weeks, causing major problems. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

How does the low water affect consumers?

Consumers are of course also affected by low water levels. A 2019 study by researchers from Giessen, for instance, shows that the 2018 low-water period led to a noticeable increase in the price of diesel in the Rhine area of Cologne, even though oil prices fell noticeably at the time.

At the time, the Cologne tide gauge saw a record low of just 69 centimetres. Economists cited the lack of transport options across the water as the reason, and consequently more expensive alternative transport over land.

Now, too, the low water levels are likely to put further pressure on consumers’ wallets – and again primarily at the petrol pump. Due to the stagnant goods traffic via the shipping lanes, less diesel and heating oil is currently arriving in Bavaria, regional broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported. 

Why don’t the logistics companies switch to roads and railways?

Many goods can also be transported by lorry or goods train. But the low water levels come at a bad time: due to Covid infections, there are currently a lot of train drivers off sick. And let’s not forget that Germany is suffering from a worker shortage at the moment, and there are not enough lorry drivers.

What happens to the water levels? Will they keep falling?

Unfortunately, experts believe water levels on the Rhine will continue to fall. The Federal Institute of Hydrology currently estimates water levels of 44 centimetres in a fortnight at the Kaub measuring station. The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration does not forecast significantly rising water levels for any of the measuring stations on the Rhine in the coming period. If there isn’t a lot of rain soon, the record levels of 2018 are well within reach.

What is the overall impact of the low water?

When the record lows were recorded in 2018, Germany’s total industrial production fell by 1.5 per cent. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) expects a decline of 1.0 per cent if water levels are too low for at least 30 days. That may not sound like much, but with the manufacturing industry in Germany having a monthly turnover of around €180 billion per month, one percent is still a huge amount. And as Germany is already having a tough time due to the effects of the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, this is not what anyone needs. 

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