Twelve residents of a home for the disabled in Sinzig drowned in the Ahr Valley disaster. According to FOCUS online research, her death is also due to the misjudgment of government agencies in Rhineland-Palatinate. Another SPD politician has been criticized for making serious mistakes.

The on-site appointment at the Lebenshilfehaus (LHH) for the handicapped in Sinzig was entitled “Hazard Prevention Show”. On July 21, 2015, the fire protection officers of the Ahrweiler district administration complained about the lack of disaster control measures. Under point 6a, the inspectors demanded a concept for clearing the facility in the event of danger.

The auditors also complained about the fact that to date only one night watch was to look after the more than 30 residents in a double building and a main building. The two buildings were a good 260 meters apart.

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Against this background, the then managing director Stefan Möller asked the State Office for Social Affairs, Youth and Supply to cover the costs of a second night worker. The authority usually finances the night caretakers of such dormitories. But the office refused. Reason: Only one position is planned for a facility of this size.

Succinctly, Möller was recommended to convene a round table with the nationwide civil protection authority ADD, the fire protection experts from the district and the Ministry for Social Affairs.

No sooner said than done: on July 7, 2016, the round came together. The second watch issue was quickly dismissed. It was said that it was too expensive and too complex. The minutes of the meeting, which FOCUS has online, are all about fire protection. The participants decided “to work out an amicable solution that would consider structural or technical solutions for risk prevention as an alternative to increased personnel”. However, the construction work did not start until March 2021. Furthermore, this concept only referred to fire protection, flood risks or evacuation plans was no question.

Four months later, twelve residents of the LHH drowned in the night of the floods on July 14/15. Between 2:30 a.m. and 3:15 a.m. on the night of July 15, investigators from the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) of Rhineland-Palatinate noted in an interim report on the case that FOCUS was able to view online. In that phase, the main house was flooded, the water was up to the ceiling on the ground floor. Only one young man from the residential group was able to save himself because he held on to a shutter for hours.

On that night of flooding, the newly installed warning system, which was to replace the second night’s watch, proved to be completely useless. In an emergency, the alarm should be sent directly to the cell phones of the previously saved employees. However, managing director Möller only received the report on the morning after the flood because the radio network collapsed at night.

For a good year now, the Koblenz public prosecutor’s office and the LKA have been investigating the former district administrator of Ahrweiler, Jürgen Pföhler (CDU), and his crisis team leader, because they are said to have warned the population too late during the flood disaster of July 14th and 15th. The accused deny the allegations.

The investigations point to a veritable political scandal. In the meantime, two ministers have had to leave Malu Dreyer’s (SPD) cabinet. It may not be the last officials. According to FOCUS online research, the death of the disabled people in Sinzig is apparently also due to the misjudgments of a number of state agencies in Rhineland-Palatinate.

If, for example, the Ministry of Social Affairs and subordinate authorities had approved and financed a second night watch, twelve people might not have had to die. In that case, each of the two buildings would have been occupied by a supervisor. As a result, the residents could have been brought to the safe upper floors in good time on that flood night. The opposite was the case.

At around 2.30 a.m., the LHH night watchmen had to watch helplessly as the people in the residential group on the ground floor in the main building drowned. The flash floods in the street and the Ahrwiesen blocked a way to rescue.

In addition to Prime Minister Malu Dreyer, another SPD politician is now being criticized for serious mistakes. Sabine Bätzing-Lichtenthäler, today leader of the parliamentary group in Mainz, was Social Affairs Minister at the time. As it now turns out, it was one of her speakers who rejected the topic of the “second night watch” at that round table in the LHH.

The Ministry of Social Affairs in Mainz explained: The use of another night caregiver in the Lebenshilfehaus had been “considered for reasons of fire protection”. In talks between the Lebenshilfe, the local fire protection authorities and the Ministry of Social Affairs, various ways of fighting the fire were discussed in 2016.

“In the end, based on a fire protection report, the institution responsible for the facility decided to implement technical and structural measures. The Ministry of Social Affairs granted investment cost subsidies for the necessary measures in the Lebenshilfehaus.” According to the state law on disaster control, the responsible district of Ahrweiler is responsible for averting danger in the event of flooding and creating its own alarm and action plans.

Neither there nor downstream did one seem to be prepared for such a catastrophe scenario: “The alarm and action plan of the city of Sinzig does not indicate any flooding or evacuation areas,” summarizes the LKA interim report.

The Social Affairs Minister at the time, Bätzing-Lichtenthäler, asked for your understanding that she could no longer remember the process a good six years ago. At the same time, the current parliamentary group leader in the Mainz state parliament was very moved by reports of a missing second night watch. “In the aftermath of the flood disaster, it will now be a matter of coordinating future measures based on the findings,” said the press office of the SPD parliamentary group.

The fact is that the home staff of the Lebenshilfehaus reacted completely unprepared to the tsunami. And consequently had not taken any protective measures in advance. “None of us would have expected such a flood,” an employee later reported to the police.

At around 11:30 p.m., a firefighter knocked on the LHH night watch. According to his statement, he wants the employee to bring the residents on the ground floor of the main building to the upper floor to safety. But he is said to have rejected the request. The supervisor claims the opposite. So statement stands against statement.

The disaster took its course: at two in the morning, a rescuer appeared again at the night watch. Now it is high time to vacate, so the demand. However, the caretaker just managed to bring his protégés upstairs from the semi-detached house. Then the flood masses rushed in, leaving the residential group on the ground floor of the main building to itself.

Residents tried desperately to save the trapped people. One of them hit in vain on the front door with a beer bench that had been washed up. Screams from the only survivor of the ground floor residential group echoed through the night: “I don’t want to die, help me,” yelled Walter Müller (name changed). Neighbors kept calling 112 for the fire department. Only a boat could have freed the person seeking help from his precarious situation. The emergency call center promised to take care of it, but could do nothing more. The rescuers were completely overwhelmed and boats were unavailable.

The crisis team in Ahrweiler seemed just as clueless about the drama at the LHH as the situation center of the Ministry of the Interior in Mainz. It was not until 5:30 a.m. that the fire brigade managed to find a boatman who saved home resident Walter Müller.

At that time Prime Minister Malu Dreyer woke up from her sleep and texted her Interior Minister at the time that she could now be reached again. Hours earlier, he had tried in vain to reach the head of government to inform her that the situation was escalating. Then he went to bed himself. Meanwhile, the deadly floods rushed down the Ahr. 134 people died, including those twelve in the LHH in Sinzig.

The fire chief of Ahrstadt later spoke of a “tsunami” in his interrogation. The LKA investigations support this view. According to the late-evening forecasts of the State Office for the Environment, “the peak wave” with a record mark of more than seven meters on the night of the flood was to be expected between 2.30 a.m. and 3.30 a.m.

Conclusion: Most of the people in the Ahr Valley died on the night of the flood, while politics went to sleep and the local aid workers tried to save what could be saved. Nevertheless, the deaths of some victims could have been avoided. “But the wrong conclusions were drawn,” was the tenor of the police report.