Have the weather warning and civil protection services failed in Germany in view of the deadly toll of the floods this week? The debate rages on and calls are multiplying to raise public awareness.
“About two days before (the disaster) we worked here very normally, we could hear about heavy rains in the weather forecast and we saw flooded roads in the area but nobody imagined that something like this was going to happen. that “, testifies to AFP Gregor Degen, who was born and lives in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, one of the German cities most devastated by the” tidal wave “of the floods.
“In the night afterwards, I saw a brief alert arrive but in fact it was much too late and given the height of the flood”, with the raging water rushing 2.5 meters high in the city, “there was no chance to protect yourself,” he says.
Like many other residents of this once picturesque city of 30,000 inhabitants in the Rhineland, he has lost almost everything.
– Critiques –
Civil protection and meteorological services, supposed to both alert populations in time and give evacuation instructions, must face criticism in the face of the human toll: more than 150 dead and hundreds of injured, according to the latest count.
“In 2021, we should not have to deplore so many victims,” said Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, on German television station ZDF, speaking of a failure of the warning system.
“Several days before already we could see what was going to happen (…) and despite everything the alert chain was broken somewhere, so that people did not receive the warnings,” he accuses. it.
“Failure before the floods”, adds the daily Bild, the most widely read in Germany.
“The sirens have remained silent in many places, there were hardly any alerts issued” on the radio or on television, “all of this (…) is a disaster for civil protection, which is one of the essential missions of the State “, he adds.
The weather services are defending themselves by considering that they have warned against heavy rains.
And the leader of the most affected region, that of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, assured Sunday that the flood warning systems had all been activated. But she admitted that the disruption of the mobile telephone system, caused by the floods, had made it difficult to warn the populations.
“People have not yet really realized that their little stream, the small stream near their home, can get out of their bed in a very short time,” said the person in charge of risk management at German civil protection, Wolfram Geier, on public radio.
– Gaps –
But the boss of the organization recognizes shortcomings. The population “had the impression that it was heavy rains” but “their magnitude was not communicated” clearly enough, said Gerd Landsberg on Sunday in the regional press group Funke.
He called for “a very big strengthening” of its services, “both in terms of staff and skills”.
German Research Minister Anja Karliczek also urged the authorities to be better prepared.
“One of the lessons from this disaster in western Germany is that we need to improve research on these extreme weather episodes over the next few years,” she said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting the scene on Sunday, however, warned of exaggerated expectations.
“We of course think after every event about ways to improve ourselves. But sometimes natural disasters happen so quickly that we cannot escape them,” she said.