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Dispatch from the disaster zone

July 16, 2021

At first, it seemed like nothing more than a harmless daylong rain — but it never stopped, it just kept pouring. DW's Christoph Hasselbach, who lives in Germany's worst-hit region, reports.

Flood damage in Bad Münstereifel, Germany
The scope of damage in Bad Münstereifel, near our correspondent's home, is catastrophicImage: B&S/dpa/picture alliance

By Wednesday evening it had been raining in our village in Germany's mountainous Eifel region for 24 hours straight. Really raining. It was like an endless thunderstorm, just without the thunder and lightning.

As I drove to the post office in Bad Münstereifel at around 5:30 p.m., considerable amounts of water were already streaming down the hillside and across the road. I thought to myself: I'm curious to see how this develops.

By the time I made my return journey a mere 30 minutes later, much of the road had already started to flood — so much so that I briefly hesitated. I got by with two wheels up on the curb, carefully passing the inundated section, but it was a close call. Another half an hour and I wouldn't have made it home.

Incessant rain

At the moment, our neighbors are away on vacation, so we're looking after their house.

Christoph Hasselbach
Christoph Hasselbach lives in Germany's worst-hit region

Everything was fine when we checked their cellar in the morning but when we looked again in the evening it was completely flooded — right up to the top step. The power was out and their sump pump had failed. We had to empty out their freezer.

Soon after, a neighbor told us her cellar was filling up, too. Then, another couple reported the same. We split up, using buckets to clear their basements of water as best we could. We worked for hours, helping each other as neighbors do.

Scenes reminiscent of a war zone

Another neighbor joined us somewhat later, telling us he had been helping a friend whose basement flat had been completely destroyed by the flooding. He also told us the water had practically cut off our village, saying he tried several times to get home but that only one road was still open. Entire valleys in the region are still inundated.

The following day, the full extent of the flooding became apparent. Massive stone bridges that cross the Erft River in Bad Münstereifel have been wrecked. Boulders and debris, washed through the historical city center, left a trail of destruction in their wake. This could be a scene from a war zone!

Damaged houses and a destroyed automobile in Bad Münstereifel
Waters washed away houses, streets and property, leaving a trail of destruction behindImage: B&S/dpa/picture alliance

No phone connection, internet down

An acquaintance who runs a bookshop in a beautiful half-timbered house in town tells us his store has "disappeared" when we ask how he fared.

Telephone and internet service are down. Mobile phone connectivity is intermittent. Some of our relatives have neither electricity, nor water. Their entire village has been evacuated as the local dam threatens to bust. They will be staying with us for now.

New normal?

An elderly relative faces similar hardship. But he can't leave, he is entirely cut off from the outside world because the bridge leading to his residential area has been destroyed. We try to figure out how to get him here, wondering if we could evacuate him using forest paths. He tells us he will wait for another day and see how things develop.

The last time Bad Münstereifel was hit by floods was in 2006, when the Erft broke its banks and water inundated the historic city center. What's different this time, however, is the unprecedented level of destruction — the debris and the wrecked bridges, the fact that entire villages are cut off from the outside world. The sheer scale of the damage seems monumental.

But the most unsettling question we are left to ponder now, is whether climate change will make such catastrophes a common occurrence.

This article has been translated from German