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German prosecutors drop probe over 2021 deadly flooding

April 18, 2024

An investigation into possible negligent homicide by the head of a district hit by deadly 2021 floods has been dropped. Altogether, 135 people were killed in Ahrweiler during the catastrophe.

 Damage seen in Bad-Neuenahr as seen in 2021
The Ahrweiler district was ravaged by the floods on 14-15 July, 2021Image: Peter Hille/DW

The former head of the Ahrweiler district, Jürgen Pföhler, will not be charged with negligent homicide over deaths that occurred during flooding in the region in July 2021, prosecutors said on Thursday.

No charges will be brought either against another member of the crisis team in Ahrweiler who was also under investigation, they said.

There was not enough evidence that quicker action on the part of authorities would have prevented the deaths from occurring, prosecutors said.

What did prosecutors say?

At a press conference in the western city of Koblenz, the head of the criminal investigation office in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate said the probe had been challenging.

"The investigation entailed unprecedented challenges," said Mario Germano, because it was carried out "in a region marked and partly destroyed by the natural disaster."

"Some of the people we had to question were badly traumatized," he added.

"Although I myself was not affected by the flooding catastrophe or involved in the investigation, I was very saddened by the extent [of the disaster] and the human fates involved," he said.

The chief state prosecutor in Koblenz, Mario Mannweiler, said investigators had concluded that the extreme nature of the disaster could not have been predicted by authorities in the region.

"The 2021 flood far surpassed everything people had experienced before and was equally unimaginable to residents, those affected, emergency services and those in charge of the emergency services," he said.

He conceded that disaster management in the Ahrweiler district had been insufficiently organized and that the leadership system of the emergency services had displayed numerous deficits.

But he said these "very considerable deficits" did not constitute grounds for assigning legal culpability to any one individual. 

Scene of damaged road in town
Towns like Bad Münstereifel were devastated in the floodsImage: Elena Danilovich/DW

What was the investigation about?

Investigators were looking into why authorities in the district of Ahrweiler failed to declare a disaster situation until shortly before midnight on July 14, by which time numerous towns were already completely flooded.

A key focus of the investigation was on the 12 drowning deaths in a facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig.

What happened during the floods?

The 2021 floods were the deadliest natural disaster in Germany in decades, claiming more than 180 victims.

The Ahrweiler district, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, was the worst-hit, with 135 deaths. Forty-seven people were killed in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia, 27 of them in the town of Euskirchen.

Two people died in the southern state of Bavaria.

tj/wd (epd, dpa)