Experts in the committee of enquiry Flood disaster in the Ahr valley was already there in the afternoon
Mainz · In its 41st session, the Flood Disaster Investigation Committee deals with flood hazard maps. Could people have been warned and evacuated earlier? In the run-up, there had been speculation as to whether this would be the last session. Now it is clear: the committee will meet one more time.
According to an expert, the effort to evacuate the people living along the Ahr should have been brought to the fore as early as the afternoon of the looming flood disaster. "On 14 July, the catastrophe in the river was already there at the Müsch gauge between 3 and 5 p.m.," Christoph Mudersbach of the Bochum University of Applied Sciences told the committee of enquiry in the state parliament in Mainz on Friday. It had been clear, he said, that most likely a worse flood would be reached than every 100 years on average - and probably as far as the mouth of the Ahr near Sinzig.
"The basic information about the danger situation" was already there at that time, he emphasised. "It had to be assumed around 3, 4 p.m. that at least the areas" along the Ahr would be flooded that were marked on the legally required flood hazard and flood risk maps for a hundred-year or even rarer event, said the professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering These were published by the State Office for the Environment.
However, a district administrator or firefighter cannot use these maps, said Mudersbach. For that, he said, additional water management information is needed, for example on the flow of water. The maps, which were incorporated into German law after the Elbe floods in 2002, contain information for precautionary purposes and also form the basis for planning for many municipalities - but they are no longer helpful in an emergency.
"Even the layman can see at a glance on the map whether a building is in water or entire areas," said Christian Brauner, a self-employed risk management specialist and former firefighter. However, the printed maps were "only of limited use for planning evacuations". Essential information for this was missing.
Based on the hazard maps for an exceptional flood, which occurs less frequently than every 100 years, it was clear that hundreds to thousands would be affected in such a case. "I would have been very worried about the camping sites and their users," said the expert. It was also clear that in such a flood, traffic routes would be inundated, but the level of flooding and the stability of buildings would not have been.
According to the state's recommendations, the hazard maps should have been supplemented with information from the field, but the state had not specified how. "I had the impression that here and there the maps had already been looked at. What the consequence was, however, was not documented," said the 65-year-old about how the municipalities dealt with it.
According to Brauner, the alarm and emergency plans of some municipalities and the district show deficiencies. But the average municipality also does not have the staff to use all the hydrological information and does not have the experience and the methods for risk assumptions, the expert noted.
At least 134 people had died in the Ahr Valley on the night of 14-15 July 2021. Hundreds of people were injured, thousands of houses destroyed.
Head of department on how to deal with leave after floods
According to a head of department, the former vice-president of the ADD, who was criticised for taking leave after the Ahr flood, was not an expert in disaster control. Substitutions during her absence had been organised, and it had been ensured on site that all tasks were performed, reported the head of the Central Tasks Department, Wolfgang Konder, in the Landtag's investigative committee in Mainz on Friday. Therefore, their authorised leave had not been revoked.
In contrast, the head of the ADD department for fire and disaster control, Heinz Wolschendorf, had been highly qualified for disaster control, he had renounced his leave of his own accord at that time. Konder told the committee that he had also contacted ADD President Thomas Linnertz about the then vice-president's leave.
According to Konder, there were discussions in the ADD about how to deal with approved leave. It quickly became clear that the situation could not be handled by the ADD's own staff alone. Support was requested from other authorities. After it had been possible to fill the staff positions, a ban on leave was waived, Konder said.
Disciplinary proceedings are underway against the ex-ADD vice-president. She is suspected of having faked an official occasion in order to be able to go to the USA at the time for a private trip she had paid for herself. Travel there was largely prohibited at the time because of Corona restrictions. The committee was closed to the public for questions on the disciplinary proceedings; it was the first confidential hearing of a witness in the committee. The Public Prosecutor's Office in Mainz is investigating the retired political official (SPD) on initial suspicion of making false statements to the committee - specifically, on the question of how many days she was in charge of operations in the Ahr valley after the flood.
Committee of Inquiry on the Flood: Further Meeting
After Konder's testimony, the chair of the AfD parliamentary group, Michael Frisch, demanded that the ADD president, Thomas Linnertz, be questioned again. Frisch would file a motion to that effect - so the committee of enquiry will meet again. The questioning had raised more questions than it answered. "For example, it remained unclear why the fire and disaster control inspector of the state was instructed to cancel his holiday, but the ADD vice-president was allowed to take a several-week holiday in California," Frisch announced. It would have to be investigated what role Linnertz had played in the leave requests.
(Original text: Marie Schneider; Translation: Mareike Graepel)