Tuesday 17 June 2014

Ela storms through Germany causing extensive damage

Volunteer firefighters Essen. Photo Ulrich Heker
“Haven’t you heard? We’ve had horrific storms with hurricane force winds!” My friend Ulrich from Essen was astonished. Severe storm cells had moved through North Rhine Westphalia on the evening of 9 June to 10 June. There was a trail of devastation that reached from Cologne in the south up to Essen and beyond in the North of the German federal state. Even now, a week later, there is the incessant sound of chainsaws as the clearance continues.

Germany had been suffering under a high pressure area with temperatures rocketing to 38°C. This was met by an incoming call low pressure area over the Channel. Extremely large and active thunderstorms developed along the front, with the one hitting North Rhine Westphalia and becoming the granddaddy of all storms. Its code name was Ela.

I heard from other contact of the initial hailstorms down in Bonn, with hailstones the size of marbles damaging vehicles and property. Making his way Düsseldorf for a meeting, he turned round in Cologne and made his way back. Just in time before the whole rail network in the state was brought to a halt.

Family and friends just north of Düsseldorf, on the west bank of the Rhine, were treated to a fantastic light show of thunder and lightning and torrential rain. But it was Ulrich in Essen who found himself in the centre of the storm. Wind speeds of up to 147 km/h stripped south facing roofs of their solar panels and brought trees crashing down throughout the city. With the incredible volume of rain falling in a short period of time, the underground system became flooded. Moving around the city became nigh on impossible.

“We rushed to close the window in our utility room. The rain was coming in horizontally and shooting into the washing machine at the far end the room.”

Overall six people were killed, 30 seriously injured and 37 received minor injuries.

Looking out of the window from a third floor family apartment the next day, Ulrich could see the orange jackets of the volunteer firefighters and clearance crews as they made their way down the street.

Spectators at the road clearance. photo Ulrich Heker

Fallen branches and entire plane trees seem to be a particular problem. The plane has long been a favourite tree for city planting, because of its ability to withstand pollution. The plane trees can grow to tremendous heights and provide welcome shade. However, they are also suffering from the spread of a fungal illness, Massaria, which weakens branches. The combination of height, full leaf and infection lead to numerous tree fellings.

Wear it with pride! Volunteer firefighter. photo Ulrich Heker
The volunteer firefighters from Essen were part of a greater communal effort throughout the state.  They worked tirelessly, day and night, to clear their cities, towns, villages, streets, roads and railways so that everyday life could resume again.

Ulrich was able to get back to work in his practice after a day or two. It took several more days for the state's rail system and the Essen underground to get into action again. The state of North Rhine Westphalia will still be counting the economic cost of this night storms for months to come.