The flooding caused a lot of destruction in the Ahr Valley and the question arises: is the reconstruction worth it? (images imago / Bonnfilm)
The devastating flood destroyed many homes and contaminated the soil. No one can guarantee that such disasters will not increase due to climate change. So how useful is it to rebuild everything as it was before?
Constance Kunkel, land surveyor for the county south of Bonn, has been on the road as a volunteer since the flood to help free of charge – especially homeowners who risk ruin without insurance.
She heads for Altenburg, one of the most badly damaged villages in the Ahr. Owner Sascha Meyer is waiting for them there. With volunteers, the original Westphalian completely emptied the huge single-family house. It is stable, structural engineers have certified it.
The flood shattered the dream of the family with two young daughters. Where the living room was, Meyer gazes at the bare pumice stone. The plasterboard cladding could not protect the walls from the oil contaminated water that flooded the basement and the first floor. The pumice stone is soaked. Constance Kunkel immediately sensed the biggest problem: the smell of oil.
Sascha Meyer explains: “Crude oil. It’s extreme here in particular. We had the tank room directly under the terrace. And she sank down. There were 6,000 liters in there and most of them probably became independent.
In the Ahr valley, disaster victims and volunteers can accompany you quickly. You trust yourself. It helps Constance Kunkel tell some bitter truths: the stench won’t just go away. But the problem isn’t just the smell. The Meyer family is also concerned about the health of their children.
Is there still a future in the Upper Ahr?
The building expert wants to take a look in the basement for this assessment. The wall is flexible, a puddle of water and oil has formed on the ground. The waterproofing is no longer intact, the layer of black bitumen has liquefied and is scratching the wall. In a corner at the top of the ceiling, there appears to be a dense, pure white piece of animal fur: mold.
Constance Kunkel has never seen it so extreme in a flood. Don’t use a construction dryer now, she advises. This would spread the toxic mold spores throughout the house. But back to the wall. Without the bitumen layer, which is no longer suitable for waterproofing the basement, it would in fact have to be removed.
Partly washed away by flooding: a village in the Ahr valley in the Eifel. (imago / Image of the future)
Sascha Meyer nods and wonders if he should rebuild his house 200 meters from the bank of the Ahr.
Due to the devastating damage that heavy rains and extreme flooding could cause, Constance Kunkel calls for inter-community planning. She considers it insufficient not to rebuild completely destroyed houses.
700 move to protect 30,000
Politically responsible people in the upper reaches of the Ahr should also consider relocations and compensate the owners. It’s cheaper than having to rebuild everything every few years because the disaster repeats itself.
Sascha Meyer of Altenburg an der Oberen Ahr does not find scandalous the idea that his own badly destroyed village could be one of the areas that may have to be abandoned, which is by no means scandalous. This thought had already occurred to him:
“You have a huge area here that can fill up. That was my feeling and still is my feeling. They would rather move 700 people to protect 30,000 below.”
Only the bravest dare to tackle what local and state politicians are currently still taboo in reference to protecting existing buildings for stable buildings: which perhaps not everyone has a future. Constance Kunkel expects bitter resistance from those who may be affected. And thinks that the state’s mission is to tell them:
“You will at least have paid off your debts. If your house and property were worth more, we will pay you back. And we will help you find new accommodation, or you can look for one yourself.”
Despite this discussion, which the owner of Altenburg, Sascha Meyer, also finds necessary: he is attached to his adopted home. And if politicians tell him he can rebuild his house without putting his family at risk from contaminated soil, he would be happy to do so.
This is why Constance Kunkel now wants to organize building biology samples for her house, in a few days. Because she knows it: clarity is what flood victims need most now.