Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler The mayor of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Guido Orthen, talks about the situation in the city following the flooding catastrophe - how many people have been affected and how things are working in terms of getting supplies to the people in need.
"Despite all the worries and hardships, it is very important for us now in the current situation to make it clear how grateful we are for the overwhelming support of the numerous helpers from all over Germany," said the mayor of the heavily damaged district town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Guido Orthen, as clean-up work continued following the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley. One could not even begin to cope with a catastrophe of this magnitude without the volunteer help, he said. "In view of the extensive damage throughout the Ahr Valley, without this incredibly remarkable and charitable show of support, as well as the efforts of people here in helping each other, the progress that has already made in dealing with the disaster would be unthinkable. The gratitude we feel, can hardly be put into words," explained Orthen.
The number of missing persons is still quite high. It is feared that the number of people who were killed in the flood disaster will rise. Reliable figures could not be provided at this stage.
Coordination of emergency services and equipment is difficult
Although the deployment of the large number of relief workers, emergency vehicles, excavators, caterpillars, tow trucks, THW special-purpose vehicles, and tractor-trailer units sometimes gives the impression that the rescue and cleanup work is not always coordinated in a practical way, Orthen notes that the professional rescue work got off to a quick start. It is undeniable that there were teething problems in coordinating further disaster response and cleanup efforts. Orthen: "In view of the size of the disaster area and the extent of the damage, this is not surprising. In recent days, however, coordination has been working increasingly better."
Work on restoring the power and water supply in the city is moving ahead at full speed. Due to the immense damage to the supply networks, it is not possible to make a reliable estimate of when full service can be restored throughout the city.
There have been several rumors in recent days that the gas supply could still be inadequate or not guaranteed for the fall or even winter. In response, the mayor answered: "Here, too, the damage is enormous. It will be months before a full-scale gas supply can be restored. Whether temporary solutions can be set up until then will have to be determined in the coming weeks."
Orthen was able to confirm that the city had been able to set up emergency shelters in the village community centers of Gimmigen, Kirchdaun and Ramersbach as well as the Landskron event hall during the night of July 14 to 15.
Getting supplies to the area south of the Ahr is still problematic
These halls, as well as the Heimersheim elementary school, will continue to be used by those affected and emergency personnel. There are also accommodations in Grafschaft-Ringen, which are currently being used by disaster protection personnel. Countless people have also found places to stay with relatives and friends in the immediate vicinity and further away. In the city alone, around 25,000 people are thought to be directly affected. Orthen: "At the moment, we can only speculate about the number of those who had to leave their homes, at least temporarily."
Regarding the dismal food supply situation for the people in the southern part of the city - Wadenheim, Beul, immediate spa area - Orthen said that the supply of basic necessities is generally ensured in the city. However, there is a shortfall in the areas south of the Ahr River, he said, because all shopping possibilities are located on the northern side of the Ahr River and alternatives, such as in the Brohltal community, are not accessible to all people. Orthen: "An increase in the coverage area to get supplies to the people in these areas of the disaster zone is the responsibility of the state."
The state has set up a crisis unit at the Federal Academy for Civil Protection and Civil Defense, from where the overall coordination is managed. However: so far this has only met with moderate success for the people south of the Ahr riverbank. The top priority is to restore the supply and sanitation networks, i.e. electricity, water, wastewater, district heating and gas. The upgrading of the remaining Ahr crossing and the construction of emergency bridges are also at the top of the agenda of the city and those currently responsible. The federal and state governments had promised extensive support for the reconstruction of the Ahr Valley. Orthen: "We have no reason to doubt this much-needed commitment."
Construction of emergency bridges underway
As far as the connections across the Ahr River are concerned, demolition work is in progress, as are preparations for the construction of emergency bridges. The construction of the temporary bridge on Landgrafenstrasse will take about a week. When it is completed, heavy vehicles will also be allowed to use it.
Orthen referred to the emergency aid provided by the state, district and city for people in need, in order to ensure financial security for purchases that are necessary in the short term. However, it is clear that this can only be a first step. Further aid programs have been announced and must now be launched quickly. In view of the large number of people who are now homeless, the head of the city was unable to say what the future holds for housing construction in the city, which has already been subject to a high level of pressure. "It is still too early for a reliable assessment. What is clear, however, is that a large number of apartments throughout the city will be uninhabitable - at least temporarily. This will inevitably mean that citizens will have to live temporarily outside the city," says Orthen.
Orthen made reference to the emergency aid provided by the state, district and city for people in need, in order to ensure that people have enough money for the short term. But it is clear that this can only be a first step. Further aid programs have been announced and must now be launched quickly. In view of the large number of people who are now homeless, the mayor was unable to say what the future holds for housing construction in the city. "It is still too early for a reliable assessment. What is clear, however, is that a large number of apartments throughout the city will be uninhabitable - at least temporarily. This will inevitably mean that residents will have to live temporarily outside the city," says Orthen.
Reconstruction of the uniquely cultivated landscape and heritage is the long-term goal
Despite the current scenes of disaster, the Ahr Valley remains a uniquely cultivated landscape with welcoming and warm-hearted people. Even though the tourism infrastructure has also suffered some of the most severe damage, the people in the valley will do everything they can to begin reconstruction as soon as possible. "We want to rebuild our Heimat (hometown)," said Guido Orthen.
Given the widespread damage, he said, it must be realistically assumed that it will take years for the infrastructure to return to pre-disaster levels. People have been enormously supportive of one another, Orthen said. "Countless people are helping their neighbors, acquaintances and friends to the point of exhaustion. The solidarity in the neighborhood, in the local district, in the entire city is overwhelming." Without this extraordinary willingness to help and mutual support, coping with the disaster would not be possible, he said.
(Orig. text: Victor Francke, Translation: Carol Kloeppel)