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German flood-stricken towns speak out about the short lead times

Ahrweiler's 66-year old antiquarian bookseller said that the loudspeaker announcements on July 14 at 8 p.m. gave the first warning to evacuate buildings near the Ahr River. Huste heard an emergency siren blast, followed by the sound of church bells. Then silence.

He said, "It was spooky like in a horror movie."

Huste raced to save his car from an underground garage. The water was already at his knees when he placed it on the street. He was able to see his vehicle floating down the street five minutes later. Later, he would discover that he had also lost books from the early 1500s. He estimates his total losses to be more than 200,000 euros ($235,000).

Huste stated that the warning time was too short.

Others in Germany are asking why emergency systems that were supposed to warn of impending disasters didn't work, despite the fact that the death toll from the floods last week in Germany and its neighboring countries has passed 210.

In some areas, sirens failed to work when electricity was cut. Other locations had no sirens and volunteer firefighters had to knock on doors to inform people what to do.

Huste admitted that no one could have foreseen the rapid rise in water levels. He pointed out across the valley to the building of the German Federal Office for Civil Protection. This is where first responders from all over the country train for potential disasters.

Huste stated that "In practice, as you just saw, it didn’t work as well as it should." "What the state should've done, it didn’t do." He said that at least it didn't do so much later.

The Ahr valley's disaster alarms were set off by local officials on the first night of flooding. They have remained quiet in the days that followed. In the Ahr valley alone, at least 132 people were killed.

The disaster response was handled by Rhineland-Palatinate authorities, who declined to comment on Friday's mistakes that might have been made after the floods.

"People are seeing a life in ruin here. Thomas Linnertz is the state official responsible for the coordination of the disaster response. "I understand the anger well. On the other hand, it was an unpredicted event.

Armin Schuster (head of Germany's federal disaster agency BKK) acknowledged this week to public broadcaster ARD that "things didn’t work as well” as he could.

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