Many lives saved: what went wrong in the Ahr valley worked in Slovenia

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Tuesday, 08/08/2023, 21:25

Devastating destruction, 500 million euros in damage: quite a few German observers are reminded of the floods in Slovenia two years ago in the Ahr Valley. Fortunately, however, the number of deaths was limited – because Slovenia is better prepared for the consequences of climate-related weather catastrophes.

Thorsten Meier should know. Meier is head of the Detmold branch of the Technical Relief Agency (THW). Two years ago he helped with the clean-up work during the devastating flood in the Ahr valley. Now, at the behest of the federal government, Meier has been sent to Slovenia as THW’s head of operations. Devastating floods as a result of heavy rain had caused major damage to two thirds of the country, Prime Minister Robert Golob estimates damage of 500 million euros.

The situation in the flood areas on the rivers Sava, Drau and Mur immediately reminded Meier of the Ahr valley. “The pictures that we saw today are comparable to pictures that we know from Germany, most recently in the Ahr Valley,” he said on Monday evening in the “Heute Journal” on ZDF. “Parts of the Slovenian landscape already look very similar.” In Slovenia, too, says Meier, there are “torn away houses, ripped away bridges and a great deal of destruction in the area where the flood water passed.”

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Alerts via SMS

While more than 180 people died in the floods in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate two years ago, the number of fatalities in Slovenia was fortunately limited: So far, “only” six deaths have been confirmed in connection with the storm. According to officials, four people died in the floods, two were struck by lightning.

The reason for the amazing discrepancy: In contrast to the Ahr Valley, Slovenia had a functioning early warning system. According to Slovenian and international media, the residents were warned in good time by SMS and sirens and evacuated, and neighbors informed each other. In this way, most people were able to leave their homes in good time – and are already returning again.

For comparison: in the Ahr Valley alone, at least 134 people died in 2021 because people were not warned in time. While the water was already rushing through the village at 6 p.m. in guilt above the Ahr, people in Bad Neuenahr, 35 kilometers away, were sitting at 10.30 p.m. unsuspectingly with the wine, as the head of the Ahr Valley youth hostel, Oliver Piel, reported to FOCUS online at the time. People were still dying on the Ahr at two o’clock in the morning.

“People and animals are traumatized”

Klaudia Skodnik from Ahrweiler went to Slovenia on Monday to help. “The pictures remind me of the flood two years ago in the Ahr valley,” says the native of Bad Homburg, whose parents are from Slovenia and whose grandmother still lives in Maribor, to FOCUS online Earth. “The flood disaster in Slovenia has destroyed many houses and made them uninhabitable People and animals are traumatized, and we urgently need construction dryers and other supplies such as brooms, rubber boots and hygiene items.”

Skodnik knows all about organizing help: After the flood in the Ahr Valley, the 43-year-old founded the association “Fortuna Hilft”. After bringing the first relief supplies to the valley, she quickly realized that material help was not enough. “Many children have developed post-traumatic stress disorders such as panic attacks or concentration, sleeping and eating disorders as a result of the terrible events on the flood night,” said Skodnik to FOCUS online Earth. “Their day-care centers, schools and sports fields were destroyed, the parents were busy cleaning up the worst of the damage and hardly had any time.”

Quite “terrible” in the north

Skodnik set up a circus wagon on the “Green 0” in Ahrweiler and in Schleiden in the Eifel and has been offering a “painting circus” for two years. The children are accompanied by an art therapist. “By painting, we want to get the children to think differently. They paint what they can’t say,” says Skodnik. Many hundreds of children from the entire Ahr Valley have already accepted the offer, reports Skodnik. In Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, her organization “Fortuna Hilft” looks after a total of 3,000 children who have been traumatized by the flood.

She cannot predict how long Skodnik will stay in Slovenia. “The consequences of the floods are serious, just like we did back then.” She meets people who have lost everything and whose houses are uninhabitable. She is currently in Komenda on the Reka River near the capital Ljubljana. It was very “terrible” in Skofja Loka in the north of Ljubljana, said Skodnik – where she wanted to go next. Skodnik does not yet know how long she intends to stay in Slovenia – as long as “as necessary”.


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