Since daybreak Felix Baumann has entered his house, fills a bucket with mud, comes out again and empties the bucket into the gutter. His wife Anna, she brushes the mud with a squeegee. In front of the entrance to their cellar, a pump connected to a generator makes a deafening noise. It is connected to a thick pipe which spits out a continuous jet of mud.

This Saturday, July 17, these two forties should have taken the road to northern Italy where they had planned to spend ten days of vacation, like every summer. Instead, they are trying to see if they can still save something in their house in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler (North Rhine-Westphalia), three days after the terrible floods that ravaged this pretty town of 27,000 inhabitants. located about twenty kilometers south-west of Bonn. But the more mud they emerge, the less hope they have: “We lost everything. But at least we have life left ”, says Felix.

A little further down the same street, Mohamed – he only wants to give his first name – still struggles to realize that he survived. He was sleeping in his first floor apartment on Wednesday night when he was awakened by screaming shortly after midnight. When he got out of bed, he noticed that his feet were in the water. Panicked, he opened a window and heard his downstairs neighbor clinging to the roof of the garage of their small apartment building. “I held out my arm to him. He tried to grab it. But the water kept rising and he was washed away. “ The man had just celebrated his 70th birthday. “I don’t even know if we will find his body”, says Mohamed.

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Two days later, the water has practically withdrawn from the streets of the neighborhood. But it left its mark on the facade of the houses. The same brown line which indicates how far the Ahr has climbed during the night from Wednesday to Thursday. More than 200 meters from the usual bed of this tributary of the Rhine, the ground floors were swallowed up. Near the banks, the water sometimes rose to the second story of buildings, tearing the facades. In some places, this calm river which flows in the middle of the vine-covered hills saw its level rise by nearly eight meters in a few hours.

Roofs ripped off, sidewalks exploded

To imagine the violence of the shock, just open your eyes. On Saturday, we could still see cars perched in trees, completely shriveled or squarely cut in half. Roofs torn off. Exploded sidewalks. Collapsed pavements. Even the downtown bridge did not resist.

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