In Bad Neuenard-Ahrweiler in western Germany, a year after the town was devastated by deadly flash floods, residents are still waiting for their normal lives to recover.
In the once picturesque town of western Germany, known for its hot springs, about 18,000 inhabitants, more than half of the local population, were affected by the disaster.
The anniversary of the night of July 14, 2021 will be marked on Thursday with a visit by Prime Minister Olaf Scholz.
The mayor, Guido Orthen, can show off the roads of Schorz, with the mud and debris scattered by the floods that submerged the town.
But when things get back to “still taking time,” he says, reconstruction is very underway.
“We still have temporary infrastructure, temporary playgrounds, temporary schools, and temporary roads that enable our lives,” he says.
None of the 18 bridges that crossed the Aa River are still functioning, and there are three temporary bridges in place.
Traces of floods are everywhere, from collapsed banks on the side of the road to the highest water levels in many buildings.
Authorities may want to rebuild things as soon as possible, but there is also pressure to ensure that residents are protected from future floods.
“We are in the same dangerous situation as we were a year ago,” said Osen, who makes residents uneasy whenever bad weather is expected.
In Germany, 185 people died in the disaster. Most of the deaths occurred in the winding Ahr valley south of Bonn, along 40 km (25 miles) to where the river meets the Rhine.
Mayor Orthen is disappointed that safeguards to keep residents safe from future floods will be the subject of bureaucratic debate.
Reconstruction of destroyed homes is not permitted in areas at high risk of flooding, and damaged homes can be repaired.
In addition, town officials are facing a pile of paperwork, and Bad Neuenard-Ahrweiler will submit requests for 1,400 reconstruction projects by the end of June 2023.
“We can’t,” Orthen says. Even with reinforcements, his staff are “exhausted.”
After living in an “emergency” for a year, elected officials see increasing “disillusionment” and “helplessness” among the inhabitants.
Last year, more than 2,000 people left Bad Neuenard Ahrweiler.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, of the total € 15 billion secured, only € 500 million ($ 506 million) has been handed over.
According to conservative state legislator Horst Geese, the slow progress is “an insult to the affected people” and is quoted daily by General Anzeiger.
In the neighborhood of North Rhine-Westphalia, € 1.6 billion of the total € 12.3 billion is approved for use in government support.
-“I want to exist”-
In the town of Sinzig, about 15 kilometers from Ahrweiler, candles were lit in front of a former care facility for the mentally ill, and 12 residents were killed in the flood.
Lebenshilfe, the organization that managed the establishment, is still looking for a place to open a new facility.
“Nothing has been produced yet in discussions with the mayor’s office and local governments,” says Ulrich van Bebber of Lebenshilfe.
Frustration is growing among those who are trying to rebuild their lives as the promised help arrives late.
“We want to be in the eyes of Germany,” says Iris Muenn-Buschow, the ground floor of her house in the middle of repair work.
“We have the impression that everything that is happening in the world is more important than what is happening here in Germany,” she says.
She and her husband set up an organization called “Ahrvalley stands” (“das Ahrtal steht auf”) that organized a series of protests.
“No one has forgotten the Earl Valley and other areas,” said Malu Dreyer, Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, stressing that there is still work to be done.