German officials investigated for negligent homicide for slow flood response

Inquiry examines belated warnings before devastating floods

Two officials in Germany are under investigation for suspected negligent homicide over slow evacuations during floods that killed 141 people in their state.

The western Rhineland-Palatinate state took the brunt of Germany's most lethal floods in six decades that killed more than 170 people, cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and left a repair bill of more than €6 billion ($7 billion).

The state's Office of Criminal Investigation said initial work by the public prosecutor's office in the city of Koblenz indicated that evacuations had been delayed and two officials in the western district of Ahrweiler were being investigated.

After reconstructing events, investigators found that forecasts about the impeding floods should have led officials to sound the warning and move residents living near the swollen Ahr river by 8.39pm on July 14.

"This – according to the initial suspicion – was obviously either not carried out, or not carried out with the required clarity or only carried out belatedly, such that it could amount to negligence," prosecutors said.

The pair, who were not named, were suspected of negligent homicide and bodily harm because of negligence, authorities said

Documents and data from the Ahrweiler crisis team and personal communication tools were taken for analysis.

The floods have shaken up German politics ahead of a national election in September, raising uncomfortable questions about why Europe's largest economy was caught flat-footed and how to prepare for the effects of global warming.

Two thirds of Germans believe that federal and regional politicians should have done more to protect communities, a survey late last month for German newspaper Bild showed.

"At present there is only an initial suspicion, which is naturally based on a state of knowledge that is fraught with uncertainties and gaps," the Office of Criminal Investigation said.

As well as the death toll, more than 700 people were injured by the floods in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Updated: August 6th 2021, 1:57 PM
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