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German prosecutors launch probe over deadly floods

August 6, 2021

A district chief in the Ahrweiler region is under investigation on suspicion of "negligent homicide" after devastating floods.

A destroyed railway bridge in the Ahrweiler region
The flooding killed dozens of Ahrweiler residents, with some 180 people losing their lives across GermanyImage: Hannes P. Albert/imago images

German prosecutors said on Friday that they had launched an investigation against the head of the Ahrweiler district in western Germany over the deadly floods that devastated the region in mid-July.

The prosecutors said that they had "affirmed the initial suspicion of negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm" and were instigating a probe against Jürgen Pföhler, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). They said another member of the crisis team in Ahrweiler was also under investigation.

What is being investigated?

The prosecutors said there were indications that residents in the hard-hit Ahr Valley who had not yet been affected by the flooding did not receive a warning early enough or clearly enough. Authorities also failed to take the residents to safety, the prosecutors said.

Both these failures on July 14 played a role in a number of deaths and injuries, according to the authorities, with most of the fatalities occurring downriver in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

Wrecked cars on a street in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
Bad-Neuenahr-Ahrweiler was one of the towns most devastated by the floodsImage: Arafatul Islam/DW

At least 141 people were killed in the floods in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate where part of the Ahr Valley is situated. Sixteen people are still missing. It was the region's worst flooding disaster in living memory, destroying bridges, roads and homes, and leaving hundreds injured.

According to the prosecutors, Pföhler is the focus of the investigation because he had "sole decision-making authority" and was meant to be in charge of the operation under current regulations.

The other suspect, who remained unnamed, took over command of the emergency response for part of the time, prosecutors said. 

Altogether, some 189 people lost their lives in the floods across western Germany, raising questions about the efficiency of the country's emergency response network.

DocFilm - Flash Floods in Europe - The Traumatic Aftermath

tj/dj (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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