Dhe Rhineland-Palatinate Interior Minister Roger Lewentz (SPD) has defended his behavior during the Ahr Valley disaster. In the night of July 15, he had “no complete picture of the situation”; He was told of “individual, also very depressing events”, but there was “no indication” that the district of Ahrweiler was overwhelmed by the situation, Lewentz told the investigative committee for the clarification of the Ahr Valley disaster on Friday evening in Mainz. The opposition in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament doubts this representation and accuses Lewentz of serious omissions. The CDU said before the meeting that Lewentz and his ministry had been fully informed. Instead of reacting, Lewentz ignored all indications of the impending catastrophe and the actual conditions on the Ahr.
As the committee made clear on Friday, Lewentz, his ministry and the state’s subordinate supervisory and service directorate (ADD) had a lot of information about the catastrophic situation on the Ahr during the flood night, but according to those involved, the drama of the situation was not recognized.
According to the description by David Wincek, who was on duty in the situation center of the Ministry of the Interior on the night of the flood, the information arrived there at around 5:30 p.m. on July 14 that a campsite in Dorsel had been flooded and that residents had climbed onto the roofs of their caravans rescued, helicopters with cable winches were used. The report from the situation center shows that the police headquarters in Koblenz informed the situation center at 9:22 p.m. that a campervan had been driven away, people were missing, rescue workers were unable to reach towns and houses had collapsed. At 10:55 p.m., the report came in that six houses had collapsed in Guilt, that there were missing people and that people were standing on houses and shining flashlights for help. The report was passed on to the head of the Minister’s office.
No talk of “flood or even flash flood”
Lewentz visited the district operations center in Bad Neuenahr Ahrweiler at around 7:30 p.m. on the evening of July 14 and met with the then district administrator Jürgen Pföhler (CDU), against whom the public prosecutor’s office is investigating on suspicion of negligent homicide. Lewentz said of the meeting on Friday that he saw himself “surrounded by professionals”; Neither the leadership nor the staff in the operations center seemed overwhelmed, and there was “no mention at all” of “flood or even flash flood”.
This contradicts statements made by members of the operational command. They said they were “overwhelmed” by the situation. The district only declared a disaster when it was far too late for that. 134 people died in the Ahr Valley disaster and more than 700 were injured. People were still drowning at the mouth of the Rhine after midnight, although houses on the tributaries and in the upper reaches of the Ahr were already washed away in the afternoon.
It was only shortly before one o’clock that he wrote “Dear Malu, the situation is escalating”
After the visit, Lewentz drove home to be “centrally accessible”. At around 11:00 p.m., his office manager informed him that six houses had collapsed because of Guilt. At 11:40 p.m., photos of the Rhineland-Palatinate police helicopter squadron arrived at his ministry’s situation center. Lewentz received it shortly afterwards. According to Wincek, the photos showed a “larger area of water” and houses “some of which were under water up to the roof”.
Why the Minister of the Interior, given the large amount of information pointing to a disaster on the Ahr, did not convene a state government crisis team during the night or alerted Prime Minister Malu Dreyer (SPD) is open. Lewentz had unsuccessfully tried to reach Dreyer by phone after midnight. At 12:58 a.m. he texted her with the words: “Dear Malu, the situation is escalating. In the local community of Schuld, district of Ahrweiler, six houses have probably collapsed. More collapses are imminent. There may be/may have been deaths.” But Dreyer didn’t read the news until the early morning of July 15.