A deadly landslide in eastern Germany has triggered a debate among politicians and mining experts on whether precautionary measures in renaturalized mining areas elsewhere in the country are sufficient.
A landslide washed away part of a housing development near a former mine, killing three
Rescue workers in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt have given up the search for three people whose homes collapsed into a lake in a former coal mine on the edge of Nachterstedt last weekend. The village remains sealed off, while further cracks in the ground have raised fears of more landslides.
Vast stretches of former open-cast mining areas in eastern Germany have already been or are in the process of being reclaimed. Most are being turned into holiday resorts. Abandoned pits are being flooded and adjacent slopes are being consolidated.
Some regional politicians were quick to state that a similar disaster would be unlikely to happen in other former or active mining areas elsewhere in Germany, especially since the homes are rarely built at the edge of such slopes as in Nachterstedt. But Winfried Boehme from a nature protection group in Lusatia, an area with many disbandoned open-cast mines in eastern Germany, told Deutsche Welle it doesn't even take an unstable slope to cause a landslide of this magnitude.
Old mines across Germany are being reclaimed, often as recreation areas
"In January, there was a big landslide in an abandoned mining area near Luebbenau in the Lausitz region," Boehme said. "This area had been reclaimed, and several plots had already been sold. The slide left a huge funnel-like crater in the soil. Here too, all the experts in the area had not predicted such an event, and none of them would have thought it possible either."
Cause for alarm?
The Nachterstedt incident has alarmed many people in Germany's traditional coal mining areas, particularly in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where many projects to reclaim former mines are either planned or already in progress.
Municipal authorities in the former open-cast mining area near Dueren have called for new and independent safety studies, before they give the green light to the planned flooding of an 11-square-kilometer area and the creation of two lakes. In light of the recent disaster, there are new concerns about the impact on the stability of adjacent stretches of land.
But according to Reinhard Schmidt from Germany's oldest mining academy, in the eastern town of Freiberg, such worries are unfounded.
"Of course it's unpleasant if the ground water starts creeping into your cellar, as it sometimes happens in such areas. But this doesn't automatically mean that there's a higher risk of a landslide. Normally, you're only exposed to such a peril, if you find yourself on the edge of a post-mining and artificially refilled slope. In most cases, no houses are built on such potentially perilous ground," he said. "Nachterstedt was an unfortunate exception."
Author: Hardy Graupner (hf)
Editor: Neil King