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Volunteering in the disaster area: Here’s how the shuttle service works for the Ahr valley

Volunteering in the disaster area : Here’s how the shuttle service works for the Ahr valley

Volunteers from near and far continue traveling to the Ahr to help clean up after the storm disaster. The starting point each day is the Rheinland Innovation Park, from where numerous shuttle buses depart.

It is often in times of crisis when the most simple and effective ideas are conceived and turn out to be genius. This was indeed the case a few days after the devastating flash flood. Two Bad Neuenahr entrepreneurs, Marc Ulrich and Thomas Pütz, spontaneously came up with the plan for a shuttle service that would take volunteers in an orderly and targeted fashion to where they were most urgently needed.

People who wanted to help with relief efforts in the disaster area responded positively to this idea and since then, it has taken on a life of its own. With the help of the volunteer shuttle, an average of 1,500 helpers are brought directly from the Rhineland Innovation Park to locations along the Ahr every weekday, and sometimes even up to 5,000 on weekends. People from all over Germany welcome the uncomplicated opportunity to help. It allows them to pitch in and help even if they have no local knowledge and it ensures they do not get in the way of the professional relief organizations.

Last Friday, 28 shuttle vehicles ranging from minibuses to articulated buses were on hand to transport volunteers to the scene. At peak times, more than 50 vehicles were in use.

Drivers provide vehicles and fuel

All drivers are volunteers and provide their vehicles and fuel. The team of organizers has grown to two dozen people, and they are all volunteers, just like the numerous small and large organizations, which support the project in every conceivable way. Although it is an "unofficial" aid organization, it is making a gigantic contribution in tackling the flood disaster.

Every day, the organization team meets as early as 7:30 a.m. to meticulously prepare for the day, because without professional planning, it would not work. Teams of volunteers are dispatched to the disaster area, but no longer in an uncoordinated manner as in the first days. Instead there is a precisely worked out plan of action, for which Thomas Pütz is responsible.

At the assembly point, the volunteers have lined up in rows of ten over a stretch of almost 200 meters and are waiting for their turn. Pütz reassures even those waiting in the last rows that they will also be dispatched to the Ahr valley. The buses shuttle the volunteers as often as necessary until even the last worker has arrived at his or her destination. Every day from 9 a.m. to about 12 p.m., the buses drive down into the valley, and in the afternoon from 4 p.m., they return to Grafschaft.

94 volunteers finally sit in the bus that heads for a hospital in Ahrweiler. The head of the hospital administration, Heike Heideck, had requested volunteers the day before. They came equipped with shovels and buckets. It is a specialized hospital for psychiatry and psychotherapy, located just a few meters from the Ahr. The clinic was dealt a severe blow by the flash flooding. The entire facility was so badly damaged that the clinic will have to suspend operations until further notice. There is plenty of work for the volunteers, especially because of the brown mud that has to be removed from the labyrinthine cellar with its countless corridors, rooms and levels.

Concentrated and calm, but with astonishing speed, the team, led by Jörg from Heilbronn, goes to work. In the narrow corridors and rooms, the sludge is first filled into buckets, which are then either carried by hand into the inner courtyard and reloaded onto wheelbarrows or pushed by the dozen onto rickety dollies and brought to an outdoor site facing the Ahr River. There, bulky waste of all kinds lands on a large pile. From there it is immediately loaded onto trucks and tractors with trailers attached at the rear.

Tirelessly, the volunteers forge ahead, and after a short time they already work well together in small groups. When the bus finally pulls up again at 4 p.m. to bring the group of helpers back, it is not only their work clothes that are heavily marked by sweat and mud. Everyone is noticeably pleased to have made at least a small contribution to overcoming the biggest natural disaster that has ever hit the Ahr valley.