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FLOODS

Flood anniversary prompts sadness and soul-searching in Germany

Germany on Thursday paid tribute to more than 180 people killed in severe floods a year ago, as concerns mount over climate change and the country looks to overhaul its planning for future disasters.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier Ahr Valley floods
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R), Rhineland-Palatinate's State Premier Malu Dreyer (L) and the winegrower look at photos taken during the floods which that have been attached on a grid during their visit to the vineyard Meyer-Nakel in Dernau, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked on a tour of the stricken Ahr valley, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz was to attend a memorial ceremony in the hard-hit town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

A series of events are also planned in neighbouring Belgium, where 39 people were killed in the deluge.

“I came here again on this anniversary of the flood’s horror to show that we haven’t forgotten the people of the Ahr valley,” Steinmeier said. “We know how many are still struggling to rebuild their homes.”

Severe floods pummelled parts of the German Rhineland over two days in July last year, ripping through entire towns and villages and destroying bridges, roads, railways and swathes of housing.

IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Germany’s catastrophic floods 

Between 100 and 150 millimetres (four and six inches) of rain fell between July 14th and 15th, according to the German weather service — an amount that would normally be seen over two months.

Forecasters had issued warnings, yet many residents were simply unaware of the risks of such violent flooding, with dozens found dead in their cellars.

The disaster prompted criticism of Germany’s flood warning system and a criminal inquiry was opened into local officials for “negligent homicide”.

The government has since pledged to introduce phone alerts in the form of “cell broadcasting” and to reinstall sirens, many of which have been taken down in recent years.

‘Major failures’

Introducing a new disaster management plan on Wednesday, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser admitted there had been “major failures over the past years and decades”.

The government is planning a new annual civil protection day from 2023 to raise awareness of how to respond in a disaster and “make our country more crisis-proof”, Faeser said.

The disaster also raised concerns about climate change, with one international study showing that man made global warming had made the floods up to nine times more likely.

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler after floods

Damaged pipelines in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A year on, Germany is set for more extreme weather with temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) expected this week as a heatwave sweeps across Europe.

Ralph Tiesler, president of the BBK federal disaster management agency, told the Funke media group on Wednesday he believed some areas in Germany may become uninhabitable due to extreme weather events.

“I say that some areas should not be resettled due to climate change and the acute threat of severe weather disasters and floods,” he said.

Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a town of 30,000 people famed for its thermal baths and wellness tourism, was among the areas hardest hit by the floods.

Over 2,000 people have since left the town, but the majority have chosen to stay and rebuild their homes — even as promised help is slow to arrive.

Relief package

A return to the way things were “will still take time”, town mayor Guido Orthen told AFP, with the rebuild very much a work in progress.

“We still have temporary infrastructure, temporary playgrounds, temporary schools, temporary roads that make life possible,” he said.

With former chancellor Angela Merkel still in charge at the time of the floods, the government pledged a total of €30 billion ($30 billion) in federal and state aid to help with the reconstruction effort.

Flood Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler

Shop owners and residents try to clear up the wreckage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler just days after the flood. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

READ ALSO: German flood victims struggle to rebuild communities a year on

But in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, only €500 million in aid has been handed out of the total €15 billion set aside. 

In neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, €1.6 billion euros of government support has been approved for use, out of a total of €12.3 billion.

Frustration is building among those trying to rebuild their lives.

“We want to exist in the eyes of Germany,” Iris Muenn-Buschow told AFP from the dilapidated ground floor of her home in the town of Sinzig.

“We have the impression that everything else that goes on in the world is more important than what happens here in Germany,” she said. 

By Ina Fassbender with Femke Colborne in Berlin

Member comments

  1. With a great sadness we remember those, who lost their lives due to the disaster 2021 caused by flooding. Germany and other European countries “must urgently take steps to mitigate the risks associated with extreme flooding and other natural and human-induced hazard events, if future damage is to be averted” (https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02712-2)

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WEATHER

Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Over the weekend, large parts of Germany saw early snowfall, but will it continue throughout the winter?

Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Many parts of Germany experienced an early white Christmas over the weekend, as snow fell from Berlin to the Baltic Sea. Hesse also saw at least the first swirl of snowflakes and there was light snow in the Siegerland and the Hochsauerland districts of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Some areas of the country were hit particularly hard by the snow – a few centimetres of snow fell in Kassel, while large parts of Bavaria experienced heavy snowfall on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

There were also numerous accidents on icy roads in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and Bavaria. 

Will there be more snowfall this week?

Snowfall is expected at the beginning of the week in some areas in Thuringia and Saxony, while further south, there is likely to be snowfall only at high altitudes – such as in the Bavarian Alps.

Snow lies on the beach in Zingst, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Moritz

In the coming days, temperatures will rise again and the weather will become milder. According to the German Weather Service (DWD) temperatures will hover between 5C and 12C for most of the country, while only the northeast and east see maximum temperatures of 0C to 4C.

Will there be more snow this winter?

2022 has already broken weather records in Germany – the period from January to the end of October was the warmest since weather records began almost 140 years ago.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Various weather models have already simulated the coming winter in Europe and Germany and provide estimations on how much warmer the coming winter is likely to be than from the years 1961 to 1990.

The models created by NASA, DWD, and the Climate Forecast System all agree that trend of rising temperatures will probably continue over the winter. Between December and February, it’s expected that the mercury will be between 1C and 3C higher than it was between 1961 and 1990. 

Meteorologist Corinna Borau from wetter.com told the Frankfurter Rundschau that she thinks that it’s extremely unlikely that there will be further snowfall in December in Germany.

“If the month looks rather dry and too mild overall, then we can’t expect large amounts of snow” Borau said. 

According to Borau, January is unlikely to be a “snow bomb” either, though it will still “feel like winter” and snow is only expected to fall sporadically. In February, however, the chances of snowfall are higher than in previous months.

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