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2021: Helping hands after the flood of the century

2021 started without fireworks but with a lot of hope.

However, the second year of Corona also had its share of challenges. Between the pandemic and the German federal election, the flood of the century hit cities and villages in western Germany in July 2021, leaving unimaginable chaos in its wake. But the shock was quickly followed by solidarity. Thousands of helpers set out to lend a hand in the flooded areas. Among them a team from thyssenkrupp.   

Whether it was cleanup or reconstruction work - in September 2021, 50 colleagues from thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions spared no effort to help the people in the Ahr Valley of Germany. Almost two months after the disaster, the chassis specialists traveled to the flooded areas together with friends and family to lend a hand. We asked them what they experienced on-site.

The decision to help

The decision to help in the Ahr Valley came quickly in September 2021. While the rush of helpers noticeably decreased after the first few weeks, there was still a lot to do in the affected areas. The management of thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions wanted to help quickly and efficiently. Posters in offices and factory halls as well as an internal newsletter communication were used to address employees and motivate them to get involved.

"Anyone who wanted to help could sign up for it - relatives could also join the circle of helpers," recall the volunteers. Every helping hand was needed. The company provided travel expenses and equipment. The motivation to help in the Ahr Valley was great - and, as the helpers found out on site, more than necessary. The 50 volunteers joined forces to sweep, hammer and shovel their way through the chaos of the floods in the Lockweiler, Burghaun, Heilbronn, Mühlacker and Weinsberg. And encountered unexpected solidarity and gratitude.

Arrival in the Ahr Valley

On the journey to a major flood zone, a lot of things go through your mind: What will I find there? How are the people affected? But the scale of disaster in the Eifel, was beyond all our helpers' expectations.

Frank Weber, Measurement Technician Process Engineering at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, only fully really realized it once he was on site: "I had been following the disaster in the media and had prepared myself for very bad conditions, chaos and destruction. Unfortunately, this was far exceeded. I would never have thought that so many houses had been completely destroyed down to the foundation walls." Once in the flood zone, it quickly became clear to the helpers that almost all of the affected houses would have to be gutted, facade insulation torn down and window panes replaced up to the upper floors.

Natural disasters put everything into perspective: thyssenkrupp's volunteers talk about helping the flood victims in the Ahr valley.

Torn-up foundation walls, flooded school buildings and lots of mud: Most of the volunteers from thyssenkrupp would not have expected the extent of the destruction caused by the flood in the summer of 2021.

But it wasn't just the negative feelings that were overwhelming, recalls Gerhard Hansen, Head of Maintenance at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions: "I was positively surprised and moved by the courage with which those affected tackled the reconstruction. The solidarity among the people on the ground, the openness and the optimism with which action was taken were very decisive for everyone - whether affected or helping."

Encounters that leave an impression

These experiences are also shared by the others in the group. All of the volunteers will probably remember the conversations and encounters with the residents in the Ahr Valley the most. Regina Hänsch, HR Manager Training & Development at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, was particularly impressed by the optimism and cohesion among the people: "Whatever happens, we have to help each other and it's good to experience how much willingness there is to help each other. We should always remember that," she says, reminding herself and us as a society.

Natural disasters put everything into perspective: thyssenkrupp's volunteers talk about helping the flood victims in the Ahr valley.

Together with colleagues, residents and other helpers, a great deal has been achieved, but the damage caused by the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley is far from a thing of the past. There is still a lot to do.

Jürgen Schumacher, Process Engineer at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, was also touched by the cohesion on the ground. The volunteer recalls a group of young women who drove more than 40 kilometers into the flood zone to fortify those in the disaster area with cakes and food. "Next to the school [was] a food camp set up. It was run by volunteer institutions and free drinks, cakes and hot food were provided to all those who helped. I didn't expect so much cohesion and charity," he continues.

Natural disasters put everything in perspective

Situations like natural disasters shake our foundations and put everything in perspective. Extreme weather and floods make us question habits and recognize responsibility. Helper Rüdiger Schütz, project planning and control at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, puts it this way: "The force of natural disasters that have been "fueled" by man require changing the personal behaviors of every single person - and that's where you have to start, with yourself."

Thanks to the team

"It was unbelievable to see the motivation, empathy and enthusiasm with which our employees got involved on site for their fellow men ad women. And they did it completely voluntarily, on the weekend, for people who were previously complete strangers. After all, that's what makes a company. I am incredibly proud that we live these values in our company and that I can rely on my colleagues at all times," says Falk Nüßle, CEO at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, visibly moved. Felix Bader, CHRO at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, was on site to help, as was Falk Nüßle: "Only those who stick together can achieve great things - we have shown that. Our thanks goes to the team: Both to those who put this action together in the shortest possible time and to our helping employees in the flood area. A very big thank you on behalf of everyone!"

Preparing for the flood zone

To ensure that volunteer support on site really is a help and not an obstacle, helpers should take their time to prepare for their mission in the flood zone. For helper Frank Weber, basic protective equipment such as dust masks, gloves, safety goggles and puncture-resistant shoes are therefore particularly important. The team from thyssenkrupp was provided with the necessary equipment for the operation in the Ahr valley. If you would also like to help, check out the official pages of the Ahrweiler district. Especially after flood disasters, it makes sense to have waterproof clothing and a change of clothes in your luggage - if possible, also for others.

Many thanks to our colleagues who lent a hand and shared their experiences with us.

We wish you a good start into the new year!