“We can’t stop thinking about it, I cry a lot”: in Germany, two years after the deadly floods, the slow reconstruction of the municipalities

It was just two years ago. Part of western Germany, near Cologne and Bonn, was devastated by floods. The toll was then very heavy: 184 dead and 33 billion euros in damage. Two years later, the affected municipalities continue to heal the wounds and the stigmata are still very present.

In Ahrweiler, one of the most affected towns, the marks left by the muddy water are sometimes still visible on the facades. Construction machinery is busy rebuilding bridges and roads. On the heights, a mobile home village was installed after the disaster, seven are still occupied. At number 16, Michaela and her son are waiting to be relocated: “We’ve been moved five times since the floods. It affects our health, we can’t stop thinking about it, we’re always stressed. I cry a lot because I can’t get out of it. this situation. I am almost at the same point as after the floods”.

A no-build zone

Very close to the river, a housing estate finds its inhabitants. Most have chosen to return to it, like Christian whose brick house was invaded by two meters of water: “The next day I ordered new windows, there was no question of not rebuilding. I grew up here, my four children were born here and I work here. I did not hesitate for a second and that’s what allowed us to hold on. You have to live with this risk”.

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The return of residents to flood-prone neighborhoods still worries some urban planners. A zone forbidden to constructions has been delimited by the authorities, but Thomas Roggenkamp, ​​geographer at the University of Bonn considers it too small: “We should have left more space for the river, made sure that fewer people were exposed to risks. It’s like a sword of Damocles”.

“Very quickly it was decided which houses could not be rebuilt and which could be. We should have given ourselves more time.”

Thomas Roggenkamp, ​​urban planner

In Dernau, a village where the flood killed eleven people, Mayor Alfred Sebastian is waiting to receive compensation from the disaster fund. The chosen one intends to rebuild almost as before: “My village is 80% flood zone, the valley is very narrow. Where can people go? There is no space available. The last big floods were in 1804 and now 2021. Hopefully we “We won’t go through that again. To limit the risks, we’re building higher and wider bridges, retention basins. The ground floors of houses should no longer accommodate living rooms: only cellars or garages.”

In total, 15 billion euros have been promised to the region for reconstruction, which could last another ten years.

Germany two years after the floods: report by Sébastien Baer


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