German Public Prosecution Service Starts Preliminary Investigation into Floods Negligence

The German Public Prosecution Service (OM) will investigate whether there was ‘death and injury due to negligence in the floods in western Germany in July. Residents say they were warned too late or not at all about the devastating disaster.


On Monday, prosecutors in the city of Koblenz, near the Ahr Valley, said that this is a preliminary investigation by the Public Prosecution Service into the authorities’ role before the disaster. In some places, there would be no warning or not in time. The burden of proof includes the police reports on twelve people who died in a home for the mentally disabled in Sinzig. The water rose there within a minute to the first floor.

On 14-15 July, the river Ahr quickly overflowed in western Germany due to the weighty rainfall: almost 150 litres per square metre. Other areas in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were also flooded. In total, at least 180 people were killed. Sixty people are still missing. The damage to infrastructure and homes is in the billions.

In the district of Ahrweiler, among others, many residents indicated immediately after the disaster that they had not been warned in time. The authorities are also said to have evacuated too late. In some places, the sirens didn’t work because the electricity was out. Firefighters had to knock on the doors to warn residents. In a suburb of Wuppertal, thirty kilometres east of Düsseldorf, residents were eventually warned by a monk with a bell, Der Spiegel said.

The German Weather Service (DWD) had already issued a warning on Monday morning, July 12, that severe weather was imminent. More messages followed. There were also automated e-mails from the Ministry of the Environment of North Rhine-Westphalia about the impending severe weather. But then it was up to the local authorities to act accordingly. In many cases, the danger of the water for low-lying areas may have been underestimated.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has indicated that he will review the German alarm system. In any case, he is considering buying new sirens. Germany used to have many sirens, but they were dismantled shortly after the Cold War because they were too old and could not be heard well in houses with double glazing. As a result, nothing has ever taken its place.

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