Situation center: Catastrophe was unimaginable on the night of the flood

Mainz (dpa/lrs) – The situation center in the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of the Interior assumed that at least 135 people died during the night of the flood, from a selectively extremely strong flood. This was reported by an employee of the situation center on Friday in the flood disaster investigation committee of the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament. “In the aftermath, the question arises, where did this information deficit towards the situation center come from?” said David Wincek. “We assumed a classic flood,” confirmed his colleague Jörn Grünhagen.

On the flood night, shortly before the end of the day at 6 a.m., he assumed that the situation would focus on Trier, the Eifel town of Kordel and the Ahrort of Guilt, said the 54-year-old situation officer. However, there was no indication of a necessary air rescue for guilt. Grünhagen reported that he still knew of two people in Kordel on a roof and two emergency services near Kordel who were trapped in a car by the water.

During Wincek’s interrogation, two videos – a total of 20 minutes long – of a police helicopter with recordings from July 14 were shown from 10:15 p.m. on the Ahr and the public was excluded. The state government did not release the videos because people in emergency situations could be identified on them, explained committee chairman Martin Haller (SPD) afterwards in front of the MPs, who were visibly upset by the videos.

The videos were not available to the situation center that night, and he also did not know where they had landed, said Wincek. “Until my shift ended at 2:30 a.m., I was unaware of the magnitude of this tragedy,” the 39-year-old had previously said. The two officials said in response to Haller’s question that they had not encountered the words “tidal wave” or “flash flood” in their service during the night or afterwards.

The situation center was informed around 9.30 p.m. by the police headquarters in Koblenz that a camper van with a person had been driven off the campsite in Dorsel and that several houses had collapsed, reported Grünhagen. As a result, the police headquarters in Koblenz was asked to set up a so-called special organizational structure (BAO), said Wincek. The confirmation came at 10:30 p.m.

At 11:40 p.m. he received photos from the police helicopter squadron, on which the Ahr could be seen as a large expanse of water with houses, some of which were flooded up to the roof, Wincek reported. He forwarded these pictures to the office of Interior Minister Roger Lewentz (SPD). There was no information about injuries or even deaths at this time. Grünhagen said he still assumed a flood situation. The dimension that this had in the Ahr valley was not foreseeable and also not imaginable.

Regarding the call from State Secretary for the Environment Erwin Manz (Greens) to the situation center, Wincek said it was not often that a State Secretary called from another ministry. The situation center would have needed more information to inform Manz that an extreme water level of more than 6.80 meters had been reached. The officials didn’t know “what that would lead to”. Grünhagen said that not much was said about the call and that the word “catastrophe” did not reach him either, “otherwise we would have consulted with the ADD”.

Grünhagen also reported that the situation officials were not well acquainted with northern Rhineland-Palatinate. The 54-year-old said there were also communication problems with the Directorate of Supervision and Services (ADD), which is subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior and responsible for civil protection. They were informed that rescue with helicopters should be prioritised.

The situation center was never in direct contact with the Ahrweiler district, said Wincek. The population was also not warned. The 39-year-old explained that the responsibility for the MoWaS system of the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance was in the hands of the top disaster control agency.

The head of the situation center had personal contact with the interior minister on the night of the flood. It was mainly about the request for helicopters and the situation on the campsite in Dorsel. Further communication went through the minister’s office. It is customary to inform the minister’s office “about every little thing” and in a low-threshold manner. “The minister is very inquisitive about internal security and the situation.” Just a few weeks ago he called and asked what was going on after hearing a siren in his hometown.

At least 135 people died in the flood disaster around 14 months ago in northern Rhineland-Palatinate, including 134 in the Ahr Valley. 766 people were injured. Roads, bridges, gas, electricity and water lines and around 9,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged over a length of 40 kilometers along the Ahr. Around 42,000 people are affected in the Ahr Valley alone, and around 65,000 nationwide. Many still live in alternative quarters.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220922-99-862212/6

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