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40 hours of disaster – DW – 02/06/2024

Tobias Kunz has been under constant pressure since 6 a.m. on Saturday. The mayor of Nordendorf, a small town of 2,600 inhabitants north of Augsburg, is desperately battling floodwaters from the Schmutter River. With 300 volunteers, he tries to save the local primary school.

“Yesterday we filled 40,000 sandbags and built a 240-meter-long dike with them,” he told DW. “Some rescuers were up for 40 hours without sleeping. But with today’s extreme water levels, even that wasn’t enough.”

Volunteers rush to pack bags of black sand from one corner to the other, while Kunz, who coordinates the rescue, is bombarded with questions one after another. The school will be permanently closed this Monday, he explains with a sad laugh. But what particularly depresses him is that the battle against the water around the new sports field has been lost: the dam has broken.

“Our school sports field, which cost around a million to build, was submerged within a quarter of an hour. The entire infrastructure is flooded. Our sewage system is also not working, so the students cannot can’t even go to the bathroom,” he said.

Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are particularly affected

The same thing is happening in Nordendorf as in many municipalities in southern Germany: the dams are not water resistant and dozens of villages have had to be evacuated. The first assessment: in some places, more rain fell in 24 hours than the average for an entire month, and the water reached levels that are generally reached only once a century. Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria were particularly affected this weekend, with some municipalities having to declare a state of emergency. A firefighter has died and at least one person is missing.

For many, the extent of the floods came as a complete surprise, which was also the case for the four young men who found themselves a little undecided a few kilometers further south, in Kühlenthal. Their problem: they can no longer reach the house that they were trying to protect yesterday with sandbags because of today’s floods. The village has now been evacuated.

“It’s the house of one of our relatives who is on vacation in Austria,” they told DW. “We tried to save what we could yesterday. But the water came from all directions. At least we were able to drive both cars to the top of the mountain and get them to safety.”

Floods in Germany: in the midst of disaster, clean-up efforts begin

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Better prepared after Ahrtal

In Diedorf, a few kilometers west of Augsburg, six car owners were not so lucky. An underground car park was completely flooded, as were the cellars of the surrounding houses. The German Federal Technical Assistance Agency is now on site and using a special device to pump out the brown sludge, at a rate of 10,000 liters per minute.

A dike and dam also failed in Diedorf. Although the floodwaters are slowly receding and the water levels are falling again, no one in the small fire station wants to give the all-clear. Not even Philipp Niegl, the local fire commander. Like everyone else, Niegl does this work voluntarily: he is also a teacher at a vocational school. His conclusion: “After the flood of the century in the Ahr valley (in 2021), we have supplemented our equipment to be better prepared: we now have a supply truck capable of traveling in deep water. This time he was able to carry a lot of things. of people.”

Nordendorf Mayor Tobias Kunz surveys the damageImage: Oliver Pieper/DW

An evacuation camp set up in record time

Those who had been evacuated and could not find a place to sleep with relatives or friends were able to spend the night in the nearby sports hall in Diedorf. In the city of Augsburg, the central reception center for all stranded people is the huge exhibition hall. A camp with beds for 300 people was set up here in record time.

Augsburg has experience in disaster management, explains press officer Raphael Doderer. At Christmas 2016, the city had to evacuate 54,000 people because of a World War II bomb. “We had 170 people here last night, at noon there were another 130 and now 80,” Doderer told DW. “Most of them are elderly people who live in nursing homes, including dementia patients. We had to transport some elderly people out of the house to a boat with a Unimog truck and then from again in a Unimog truck and finally in the ambulance.

Some elderly people were still left in the huge reception room, including Sabine Fischer’s parents and two neighbors. The night ended for the Fischer family at 2 a.m. The Schmutter, which usually winds quietly through the town of Kühlenthal behind the house, suddenly became four meters wide and water seeped into the basement.

“We are waiting and waiting here and we don’t know how much water has entered our property,” Fischer told DW. “It was simply inconceivable to us that the situation was so serious. Our only wish: to return home as quickly as possible.”

This article was originally written in German.

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