My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

21 January 2007

I survived Hurricane Kyrill

By now you've probably all heard about the terrible storms that ripped through Europe this past week. Since Friday it's been basically the only news story here, but, contrary to what you might have heard, it wasn't really that bad. The news has been dramatic, and, yes, people died (mostly from being struck by debris), but I still think most of the coverage has been misleading.

If the news is to be believed, this is the worst storm to hit Europe in years, or even decades. All told forty-seven people died as a result of "Kyrill," a dozen of them German, but that's just twelve, in a country of 82,400,000 people. That's not exactly catastrophic. Granted, we got off easy in Berlin, without the uprooted trees, ripped off roofs and high wind speeds experienced elsewhere in Germany. In general, though, the problems didn't seem to be due to the severity of the storm, but to the quality of construction of buildings and the reactions of people who weren't used to storms and didn't know what to do.

On Thursday in Berlin businesses and schools closed early, flights were cancelled, hotels filled up, and agencies ran out of rental cars. As the day storm wore on into the night tunnels were closed because of flooding and the police received a few hundred calls about fallen tree limbs. Meanwhile, newscasters acted like the sky was falling. Granted, the suspension of all rail travel in Germany was a big deal; it takes a lot to bring German trains to a complete standstill. But the Deutsche Bahn recovered quickly, bending rules and regulations to get the passengers to their final destinations. Some train stations gave away taxi vouchers, but only to people willing to carpool; elsewhere they set up a train for stranded passengers to sleep in. The word in the news most commonly associated with the storm was "lahm" (paralyzed).

Of course, I had no idea any of this was happening. I was safely ensconced at home, listening to the rain and wind from the comfort of my bedroom and packing for a trip to Hamburg. Busy with school and research, I hadn't read any news in a few days, so I had no idea the storm was coming and hadn't been inundated with warnings or the repetition of the word "hurricane." I remember thinking it was actually nice to see lightning and listen to the wind howl, since I hadn't experienced a storm since my arrival in Germany. It never occurred to me the storm was (or, more accurately, would be considered) severe. I wouldn't say Germany was "paralyzed" by this storm, "inconvenienced," yes, but not paralyzed.

When I made my way to the train station for my 8:18 a.m. train to Hamburg I didn't see any evidence storm damage, like downed tree limbs or strewn garbage and debris. Everything was wet, but in general it was a fine, fresh morning, with the clouds already beginning to clear. I arrived at Hauptbahnhof only to find it closed: cordoned off and with a police guard. I learned later that a massive steel beam fell off the facade and crashed to the ground, breaking some stairs and damaging a few bicycles and a taxi. (Go to der Spiegel to see pictures.) All rail service through the station was suspended until Friday afternoon, and they're still trying to determine if this is a structural flaw or just a fluke.

Frankly, I'm surprised this wasn't a bigger story. Europe's biggest, newest and most expensive train station was shut down for a day because part of it fell off, but 150 miles away in Hamburg, it didn't even warrant a mention on the news. It seems to me that when you spend almost a billion dollars to build a train station, there should be some assurance that it won't fall down.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew....glad you are ok.
When there are really bad storm and tornado warnings in her neck of the woods (well, Great Plains)a certain someone in Grand Island, Nebraska USA just grabs her bike helmet and weather radio and heads for the basement...

11:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha. I also take my biggest flashlight.

2:06 AM


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