Heads of state are coming to the river valley this Thursday on the first anniversary of the deadly Ahr flood disaster. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to talk to victims, helpers and local politicians in the Altenahr and Ternau communities from 11am. He is accompanied by Malu Dreyer (SPD), head of the government of Rhineland-Palatinate. Steinmeier then traveled to Euskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia to participate in a memorial service for flood victims.
Although the head of state will no longer participate in the central Ahr memorial event in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler on Thursday evening, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is expected there as a guest without a speech. Up to 2,000 people could gather at a spa park in a heavily flooded district town.
Reminder of church bells and human chains
According to the state government, the memory of the victims should be linked to “a visible signal of unity and common ground”. The program of the public event at 5.30 pm will be broadcast live on SWR TV and on the Internet. Speeches are scheduled by Prime Minister Dreyer, the non-party Ahweiler district administrator Cornelia Weigand and Bad Neuenahr-Arweiler mayor, Guido Orthen (CDU). The program also features the words of four flood victims. Artists from the region create musical compositions.
A decentralized commemoration is planned for this Friday in flood-affected communities. According to the Ahrweiler district administration, church bells are to be rung in several places around 6pm “as a sign of shared grief and hope”. It is also planned to conduct separate human chains in various municipalities.
Two others are still missing
Churches are planning memorial services on both Thursday and Friday. The Catholic Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, and the head of the Evangelical Church in Rhineland, Thorsten Latzel, are expected to attend such an ecumenical gathering on the lawn in Ahrbrück on Friday at 4 p.m.
In Rhineland-Palatinate alone, at least 135 people died in the flood disaster on the night of July 15, 2021 – 134 in the Ahr Valley and one person in the Eifel. Two others are still missing. In North Rhine-Westphalia, 49 people died in floods caused by heavy rains.