Why locals rebuilding Germany’s flood-struck towns are longing for spring

Craftsmen in rural areas of Germany that suffered record flooding last summer are playing a leading role in reconstruction efforts.

Armed with hammers, drills and saws, residents of the village of Gemund are busy rebuilding their homes and businesses, six months after catastrophic flooding in July caused untold damage.

At the time, rivers overflowed, killing more than 180 people in one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

Floodwaters reached levels never seen before, destroying homes, washing cars into meadows and triggering landslides.

Even after months of clearing, the flood is still very present in everyone’s life.

“It’s a wasted year,” said one resident, adding that life is still all about repairs. He hopes to return home in March.A sign reading Vending carts stand in front of empty shops in the pedestrian zone of Schleiden-Gemünd.

But normality is still a distant hope for Gemund, a picturesque village nestled at the confluence of two rivers, the Olef and the Urft.

The historic city center is still practically empty. Only a local butcher returned to his shop in an otherwise depressing and empty pedestrian area. A baker, meanwhile, sells bread from his cart.

Shopkeepers left signs in the now dusty windows, reading “Thank you! Stay well”. In the background you can hear the muffled hum of dehumidifiers working to counteract the humidity.

The bookseller is made of harder things. The sign in her window reads, “Now more than ever. Fate can kiss our ass! Thank you to everyone who wants the future!”

Meanwhile, the main part of the mailbox nearby is gone, only the yellow outer shell remains.

Repair work continues in both churches. The local pub does not expect to welcome anyone before Easter.Vending carts stand in front of empty shops in the pedestrian zone of Schleiden-Gemünd.Debris lies on the banks of the River Urft in the town of Schleiden-Gemünd about six months after parts of Germany were hit by flooding last July.

Businesses in Gemund are not expected to reopen until May or June, according to Ingo Pfennings, the mayor of Schleiden, a town of 13,000.

Markets and supermarkets are gradually resuming operations after all but one were destroyed.

“People were so grateful to be able to buy a piece of cake,” says Julia Kloska-Knapp, recalling last year’s Christmas market, filled with mulled wine and food tents.

Around the time the flood first hit, she found herself traveling up to 20km to buy groceries, get gas or deposit money in the bank.

She feels happy to see the bakers back in the village, even though they are so popular that sometimes there is nothing left in the afternoon.

The water was 75cm deep in his auto parts store about 170m from the Urft. She immediately started cleaning up, after a Dresden insurance broker gave her some advice, based on her experience when the Elbe flooded years ago.Debris lies on the banks of the River Urft in the town of Schleiden-Gemünd about six months after parts of Germany were hit by flooding last July.

“You have to make sure you get rid of the mud right away,” says Kloska-Knapp. “We spent two weeks cleaning up.”

The flood, however, caused extensive damage to goods and machinery in the workshop. She is still waiting for costly repairs to the floor and exterior walls.

“Half a year is a long time, and on the other hand, it’s nothing,” says Kloska-Knapp.

The floods also wreaked havoc in other ways. People tell the mayor they just can’t get rid of the noise the water makes. Or that when it rains, their children cry. Others say their neighbors’ nightmares keep them awake at night, hearing them cry out for help while they sleep.

Those affected are offered therapy for the next two years and more and more people are asking for help, says Reverend Claudia Muller-Buck from Swisttal.

People are starting to tell their stories, and that’s a relief, she says.

Looking back, says Muller-Buck, who is a member of a mobile flood relief team, it becomes clear how much was lost.

But looking to the future, Muller-Buck is confident the situation will change more visibly once federal support is forthcoming so people can repair their homes.

“I think things will be better when spring starts,” she says.

Meanwhile, the man hammering and planning to return home in March says he can never contemplate going through something like this again.

“If the floods come back here, it’s over,” he says. – dpa

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