SINZIG, Germany – If the catastrophic floods that hit Germany have an emotional focus, it is in Sinzig, a small town between the Rhine and the Ahr.
Across Germany, 143 people have died and hundreds more are missing. But the 12 dead in Sinzig were heartbreaking across the country and most vividly demonstrated the tragedies that could have been avoided had the flood warnings been better heeded.
They were disabled residents of a care home, the Lebenshilfe Haus, located along the residential street Pestalozzi. They were sleeping, under the care of a single night watchman, as the flash flood waters suddenly rose very early Thursday morning, and they were trapped on the first floor of the house and drowned.
Neighbors could hear screams, they said later, but all rescue workers could do was rescue the other 24 residents on the upper floors about three hours later, sending them out through windows in small boats.
“Every person who dies is a tragedy,” said Tabera Irrle, 23, a train conductor who came to Sinzig to help clean up after the floods. “But it’s a particular sadness,” she said, rubbing her eyes with muddy hands.
Just beyond her, locals were helping firefighters topple a crumbling red Volkswagen that was blocking the street, while others held barbecues over the sewers so that when they poured out the flood waters, the larger objects do not fall into the city’s sewage system.
Dominik Gasper, 17, was helping his parents and uncle clean up mud and crumbling property from his grandparents’ house on Dreifaltigkeitsweg, a street near the care home. He was aware of the 12 deaths, he said.
“It was so horrible,” he said. “You can’t really understand such a thing. “
Her grandparents, Klaus and Anna Rams, are doing well.
“They were so lucky,” he said. “No one was hurt, but their basement was full of water.” The Rams looked haggard and exhausted, both covered in mud, and pushed back questions.
The waters peaked at Sinzig at over 7 meters, around 23 feet, the highest in a century, said Andreas Geron, the mayor. He said fire trucks attempted to warn residents late Wednesday night, but few said they heard a warning.
Two other residents of Sinzig died in the town of 20,000 and a recently renovated bridge over the Ahr collapsed.
Luis Rufino, 50, is a longtime resident of Sinzig and works for Environmental Service GMBH, which serves various municipalities in the region. He was taking a break to help with the cleaning and was angry with what had happened at Lebenshilfe Haus.
“Our health care system is better than the United States, but they still try to avoid costs,” he said bitterly. “So there was only one guy watching over these poor people, and when the lights went out they went into a panic, and when the flood came, they didn’t stand a chance. . “
Floods in Western Europe
At 3:30 am, he said, “There were efforts to evacuate people and corpses were floating there. “
He looked away and said, “I’m not here to judge but this crisis management system hasn’t worked well. When the water started to get hard where the Ahr begins, they just had to say, “Look, a big flood is coming” – and a certain percentage of it could have been avoided. “
Ulrich van Bebber, chairman of Lebenshilfe, which has operated the retirement home since it was built 27 years ago as the region’s first shelter for disabled people, told reporters afterwards that “we are all horrified , stunned and infinitely sad “. ‘
He said those who survived were being taken care of. “We want to keep the Lebenshilfe Haus as a residential facility and, if necessary, rebuild it. “
In a nearby shopping center, Kaufland, 19-year-old Mina Sabatschus was still shaken by what had happened. “I was so shocked and very sad, and wanted to help, but it’s so sad,” she said. “I feel so sad, I don’t even want to think about it.”
Ms Sabatschus paused and then said: “People know their families are dying and there is nothing they can do. She stopped again. Faced with such a tragedy, she said, a little plaintively, “I decided that the best thing was to help my friends.”
Some of those friends, in Heimersheim and Bad Neuenahr, a few kilometers west along the Ahr River, have lost everything, Ms Sabatschus said – houses, cars, furniture. “But at least they’re alive,” she said. With the bridges down, she couldn’t get there to help them, but she will, she vowed.
She has completed her education and works for a while in a supermarket, she says, to earn money before going to college, where she wants to study English and Philosophy and then teach.
Ms. Sabatschus is angry with local and federal officials.
“The government should have done more – they knew this heavy rain was coming,” she said. “There was no real warning – they didn’t say anything.” Her friends woke up at 2 a.m. to suddenly find water already 2 feet and rising, she said. “They didn’t know it, but the officials did.”
His friends told him they were particularly disgusted when some politicians came to visit the area in costume, not to speak to the people of Bad Neuenahr, “just so they could say they were there on the news.”
She took the arm of her partner, Toni Werner, 20, a computer programmer at an engineering company. “At least I was with him,” Ms. Sabatschus said, finally smiling. “So I didn’t have to worry about what happened to him.”