German flood survivors face uncertain future

Dernau (Allemagne) (AFP) –


When floods tore through the German village of Dernau last week, 39-year-old mother Carina Dewald lost everything.

The petrol station where she worked as a manager with her husband was razed to the ground, and her house was left uninhabitable as waters from the river Ahr rose to the window ledges on the first floor.

"I think we'll be able to go back to our house, but right now I'm taking each day as it comes," she told AFP amid the piles of rubble that used to be her street.

In the meantime, "I am technically homeless and unemployed," she said.

Dewald is one of thousands of people whose lives have been torn apart by severe flooding in Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia regions.

She and her family are now living in a nearby apartment provided by her father-in-law, spared by the floods but still without water or electricity.

The people of Dernau, a village of 1,800 residents nestled in the wine-growing hills of the Ahrweiler region, fear it could be months before life starts to return to normal.

Roads have been torn up and bridges destroyed, with some parts of the valley only accessible by air.

"The village will not recover," said one vineyard owner after losing an entire cellar full of wine.

Peter Schnitzler, 55, the manager and head chef of a local family-run hotel, is also fearful about the future. "I don't think I'll be able to reopen the hotel," he said.

- Volunteer effort -

With shops destroyed and cars swept away by the floods, many villagers have had to rely on volunteers to provide basic food, cook hot meals and deliver mattresses, torches and generators.

Stage technician Timo Tillmann, 31, drove 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Osnabreuck to Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler and has been touring the town with a van full of rice, pasta, plastic cutlery, T-shirts, toothpaste and diapers picked up from a nearby warehouse.

"Do you have anything sweet?" asks a young woman, visibly exhausted, her clothes smeared with mud.

The nearby Nuerburgring racetrack has become a makeshift aid centre the size of three football pitches storing donated clothes, toiletries and food.

The THW federal volunteer agency has set up a water purification plant in the car park of a hospital, pumping out 30,000 litres (6,600 gallons) of drinking water per hour.

With some growing desperate, police in Koblenz had warned residents on Monday to "not use the water from the Ahr as drinking water or for washing clothes".