TO The one-and-a-half-foot-high brown line on the kitchen wall marks where the floodwaters came in when Christian Ulrich’s home was flooded. The electrician stands amid the mud-splattered walls and his voice breaks as he remembers how he barely had time after the warning came to get to the basement to get food and water and send his mother upstairs. He had just let in neighbors who had knocked on the door for help, when there was an “almighty roar, like an explosion” when a huge wave of water came in from the back and front of the house, so hard it pushed the door open. main and many of the windows.
Eight days later, Ulrich, standing in the ruins, says he can finally “breathe again,” thanks to a man on a mechanical bulldozer outside on Bachemer Strasse, who has spent the last few days on the street cleaning debris from the house. from Ulrich’s family. and others. The downstairs furniture and fixtures, and the contents of the basement, still fill the street, but he says the smelly pile is now only a fraction of the height it was. “We are very grateful to these people. But we are saddened that so far there has been very little official aid, ”he says.
A banner hanging from an upstairs window, where Ulrich’s mother is trying to recover from the trauma, reads: “Thank you dear helpers.”
Ingo Mellenthin, who is operating the excavator, on loan from a landscaping company, with efficient calm, traveled from Herten, 100 miles away, to volunteer. His son Jonas is in an adjacent street doing the same. “We thought it would be best to come here to help, knowing we had the skills they might need,” says the freelance builder, who was planning to go on vacation.
A similar scenario is unfolding in thousands of homes in this spa town in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, all of which lack running water, electricity or gas, and in turn in dozens of towns and villages in the region, some of them which are still cut. Almost 42,000 people have been affected and many have lost their homes. In Rhineland-Palatinate alone, 128 people have died. 766 more were injured and 155 people are still missing.
Street after street, rows of muddy volunteers scoop up dirt from basements and ground floors into buckets and pass it around. The last in the chain throws the mud onto the street. Many punctuate the work with a joke or song. A group of women and girls, calling themselves “Paw Patrol”, are cleaning the basement of a physical therapy practice on Ahrhutstrasse. “It’s time to help, it’s that simple,” says Hatice Sadet. The youngest helper seen is seven-year-old Eno in wellies, who, along with many others, is shoveling a shovel into thick, sticky gray mud that needs to be watered to keep it from clogging drains.
In the market square, Hartmut Schönhöfer is busy removing plaster from the walls of the picturesque 18th-century Marktbrunnen (market fountain) pub, which he and his wife, Martina Caspers, the owner, had spent most of the confinement in a thorough renovation. It was due to open in three weeks.
“When the waters came it was like a pinball, as it seemed to come from everywhere and very fast,” he says. “Cars were swimming down the street.
“None of us died, for that we are grateful,” he adds. “But our tragedy is that we had invested € 300,000 net (£ 256,000) in the renovation and we will need another € 150,000 or € 200,000 to restore it now. But we don’t have elemental damage insurance. [to cover storms and severe weather]. It just wasn’t available. ”History repeats itself in homes and businesses across the city.
At Dr. von Ehrenwall’s Psychiatry and Neurology Clinic, Deputy Managing Director Heike Heideck delegates jobs to staff who have come together to help with the cleanup. Around 150 patients had to be transferred to the upper floors where they stayed overnight before being evacuated to a makeshift shelter in a Haribo candy factory.
On Kurgartenstrasse in another district, on a pedestrian promenade popular with the rich weekends of Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and elsewhere, the Förtsche are going through the remains of their antique shop. “Here, take this as a souvenir,” Udo Förtsch half-jokes, picking up a mud-stained Marc Chagall print. His wife Uschi washes some bronze statues and a glass vase and places them in a plastic box. But more or less all the rest of your € 150,000 of stock is destroyed.
They are also not insured. “We plan to retire in a couple of years. We can forget that now, ”he says. A store colleague comes to tell them that their landlord’s 18-year-old daughter drowned while trying to get the car out of the garage when the water came. “We are the lucky ones,” Uschi Förtsch says, wiping away tears.
Steps away, the curtains of the five-star Steigenberger hotel flutter in the wind. The windows were smashed by the force of the water, their frames bent along with the pipes and streetlights outside. A ballroom is littered with mud and plates, silverware and champagne buckets are scattered on the floor. A Peugeot has fallen against the terrace of the hotel. “It’s like Bosnia after the war,” says Tim, from a Gummersbach firm specializing in construction cleanings that has just arrived and is surveying the scene from the banks of the fast-flowing, brown river Ahr.
In the Ahrweiler district, an unbroken column of trucks and tractors, borrowed or driven by local farmers, garden centers and construction companies, cuts through the Ahrtor, one of the four gates in the old city wall, and lines up to leave a seemingly endless tip. loads of the mud-soaked contents of homes and businesses (washing machines, carpets, wine barrels, birdhouses, model shops, car seats) in a huge heap.
An excavator operator is tasked with compressing the mound as much as possible and loading it onto trucks that transport it to incinerators in Germany and the Netherlands. Seeing a hotel or restaurant red carpet in the trash, he picks it up with the teeth of his digging bucket and waves it at his coworkers, offering a brief moment of levity in the midst of misery.
The efficiency of the operation is adjusted as truck maintenance engineers are available to offer repairs for everything from tire punctures to loose bolts, for which the demand is high.
The Auth have driven their “Brat King” catering truck 160 miles from Fulda, stocked with thousands of hot dogs and other donations from butchers, supermarkets and individuals, to feed the helpers and residents.
Maria, whose restaurant, Delphi, is in shambles, along with Lily, a waitress, eat a currywurst and fries while taking a break from cleaning. Lily remembers leaving work early after a flood warning came in late Wednesday night, July 14, and driving over the bridge over the Ahr River to her home. “I swear I could feel it change,” he says. There were several cars on it when it subsequently collapsed. “I think if he had arrived 15 minutes later, he could have been dragged.” He points to the bridge, a few meters away, which appears to have split in two. An excavator trying to clear debris around him has just fallen into the fast-flowing water, but the driver has been taken to safety.
Nearby, next to the river bank, part of the fire station collapsed, the doors of his garage were closed, although luckily the firefighters managed to get the vehicles out in time.
A few meters ahead, the city’s cemetery lies desecrated. Cars and a van are thrown between broken tombstones and just a blade of grass is visible. Benjamin Monschau attends the grave of his grandfather Erich. The tombstone still stands but, with the help of a friend, he tries to free the rest of the sticky mud mass. “I didn’t want my grandmother to see it like that,” he says.
Masks are used here primarily to protect from mud, dust, and bacteria, rather than coronavirus. A muddy handprint has become a hallmark of the cleaning effort.
Elisabeth Parschau has placed two of hers on the front of her boyfriend’s shirt. “What we need right now is a lot of love, and with the hope that it keeps coming, the city will need a lot of help in the coming months,” he says. She sits playing her piano flanked by two tanks of water previously delivered by the army, outside her home with its bucolic courtyard adorned with grapevines.
The instrument, which was in half a meter of water, is ruined, he says. But before he is carried away with the rest of the rubble, he has chalked the invitation “Play me”- play with me – on that. Residents and rescue workers in need of respite have taken up the offer.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism