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Post-flood safety evaluation: This is what the colored markings on houses along the Ahr mean

Post-flood safety evaluation : This is what the colored markings on houses along the Ahr mean

Following the flood disaster, building surveyors are inspecting the damaged houses and buildings along the Ahr to see if they are safe. One expert says there needs to be a careful evaluation as to whether rebuilding in some areas even makes sense.

They move from one site to the next: building surveyors, civil engineers, structural engineers. Their job: to inspect the houses that were affected by the Ahr flood disaster. And then they have to decide whether the buildings have withstood the flood, whether they can remain standing. A green check mark on the side of the house brings relief to the owners. It means that their house is safe enough to remain.

It’s a different situation if there is no check mark on the house, but instead a cross. This indicates that there is damage that still needs to be checked by the owner. Dash marks indicate considerable damage and three dash marks make it clear: the building is in danger of collapse. It usually doesn't take long for the bulldozers to roll in and demolish a house or building immediately.

People react very differently to such decisions, mostly calmly, but perhaps still traumatized by the experiences of that night," says Constanze Kunkel. The building surveyor from the county was on the road for a few days to inspect damaged houses in the communities along the Ahr River. She can put herself in the shoes of the local people. In 2010, 2013 and 2016, she experienced the effects of heavy rain on her own home and was literally "flooded" three times, although the damage was no comparison to what happened in the Ahr Valley on July 14 and 15.

Even before the experts arrive, it is often clear to the owners that houses have to be demolished because they are so heavily damaged. Especially in the communities of the Middle Ahr, the water level was up to the roof of many buildings, mostly getting in to the living areas through destroyed windows. Walls that have been washed away are often the clearest indication that nothing can be salvaged. People generally left their apartments and houses as quickly as possible after the flood. They know what is in store for them.

Roman Wißmer experienced the night of the flash floods in his home

A little further along the route of the Ahr, the valley is no longer so narrow. Especially in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, where the river overflowed its banks by up to 300 meters, other scenarios present themselves. There, in many cases, the ground-floor apartments or stores are severely damaged, while the upper floors are not. Roman Wißmer experienced the night of the flood in his apartment on Kreuzstrasse. The Ahr riverbed is about 180 meters away, and that night it was a very close call. Wißmer was ultimately lucky, because the flood waters did not reach the second floor.

Completely destroyed, however, was the apartment on the first floor. "And everything in the basement was destroyed, too. We stayed in the building for one or two days, but then it was no longer possible," says Wißmer, who has been living in a hotel ever since. No electricity, no washing facilities, plus the stench after the flood made him leave. Since then, he has been commuting, going to the apartment building every morning, where he has to clean up the basement in particular. For Wißmer, he has already decided one thing: he is staying in Bad Neuenahr. Many others, however, are leaving the town and the valley. Especially those who have lost everything.

Still others want to rebuild their homes. But is that even possible? Does it make sense to build where a flood may cause damage again in a few years? In times of climate change, no one can predict that it will take another 100 years before an extreme flood occurs again.

Many want to start rebuilding sooner rather than later

Building surveyor Constanze Kunkel calls on politicians to outline a clear policy on where building is still allowed and where not. She says a zoning plan for the whole area is necessary now, with the emphasis on "now," because people need decisions. There had not been any such action taken after the Oder flood in 2002. After the people north of the city of Meissen had rebuilt their houses - often with their last bit of strength - then only a few months passed and authorities ordered demolition of the buildings. This traumatized the flood victims once again.

Along the Ahr, many of those affected have already had their houses cleared out, gutted and structurally inspected. They would rather start rebuilding sooner rather than later and get back on track with their lives. "Rebuilding all the houses swept away by the flood, close to the river just sets us up for the next disaster," Kunkel believes. But once people have started to rebuild, it will be very difficult.

Orig. text: Thomas Weber

Translation: ck