Much of the town of Grimma was destroyed by floods in 2002. Now it's been hit again. As citizens begin to think about rebuilding, they might be wishing they'd hurried up on a very different construction project.
"[The water] really came right up the lip," said Mayor Matthias Berger, referring to the height that would've done serious damage the town of Grimma, Germany. "It was literally three centimeters [about one inch] below the windowsill."
Mayor Berger returned from his first inspection feeling relieved. As flood waters receded, he was the first allowed into the old town to review the damage. The area remains blocked off to the general public. The electricity is still down, and barricades block those who live there from returning home.
Throughout Grimma, debris litters the streets. Dark brown mud is strewn everywhere. Floodwaters have left behind what they took upstream. The suspension bridge over the Mulde river is packed with flotsam. Precautionary sandbags are still stacked up in front of many front doors. Because of those sandbags, the flood did less damage than it did 11 years ago.
At that time, the Mulde river stripped away entire streets. Grimma, a peaceful town of 20,000 just outside Leipzig in Saxony, was one of the hardest hit communities. Pictures of ravaged homes and buildings circulated throughout world. Through donations and good dose of resolve, citizens helped to recreate its beautiful and historic town center - one Mayor Berger calls a "jewlery box."
Not as bad as 2002
That historic town center happens to sit at the lowest point of local elevation - and directly on the Mulde river. This time it fared better, though.
"There are certain streets that are missing some small, specific things," Mayor Berger told DW. Yet the roads appear to have made it through the floods unscathed, their concrete now covered in a layer of brown mud.
In the town's park, the pond has been turned a murky brown. Ever since the city council was flooded with water, the mayor and his administrators have taken quarters in the local fire station.
"Maybe it's because of the newer construction materials and lower waters that the damage wasn't as bad as in 2002," says Mayor Berger.
For Ines Boden, who works in a bakery and knows the people in town, the gradually rising waters weren't any better than the rapidly rising flood of 2002. "It's consuming more because it took longer," she told DW.
But superficially, the damage doesn't appear too bad. Cellars have filled up, along with ground-level businesses and homes with walk-in entries. For many, it's the second round of flooding - and marks just eleven years since the last water-related cleanup.
The wall that almost was
"A flood like the one we just had wouldn't have hit Grimma if we'd had a flood protection system available," Mayor Berger says. He added that, had a flood protection system been in place, the flood waters could have even been higher.
Grimma's old town is supposed to be protected by a wall. It's been in construction since 2007 and should be completed within four years.
"It'll take a lot of work, but we'll make it," says Ines Boden.
Perhaps that's why so many citizens appear calm despite the dramatic situation of their town. They wait patiently to regain access to their homes, and, when they do, remove soaked furniture and place it on the street.