Disaster researchers on the blown up dam: “Destruction will be huge”

What can Ukraine do now to minimize the damage caused by the dam collapse? A disaster researcher provides answers.

“Something that has a new dimension” – that’s what Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) called what happened in Ukraine early Tuesday morning: due to the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in the south of the country, water masses flow uncontrollably towards the city of Cherson.

As Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the collapse of the dam, a race against time has begun for thousands of residents in the region. Wolf Dombrowsky, who has been researching catastrophes for decades, fears that entire regions could be flooded. In an interview with t-online, Dombrowsky talks about the possible extent of the destruction, what matters in the next few hours and why he still believes that many people could be saved.

t-online: Mr. Dombrowsky, the Kachowka reservoir is one of the largest in Europe. Is there some sort of blueprint of what to do if such a dam breaks?

Wolf Dombrowsky: This lake is a network of six reservoirs with a capacity of 18 billion cubic meters over an area of ​​2,200 square kilometers. For comparison: The Edertalsperre in Hesse, which is one of the largest in Germany, has an area of ​​11.8 square kilometers and carries 199 million cubic meters. That’s tiny if you look at the Ukrainian reservoir next to it.



During the Second World War in 1943, several German dams were bombed by the British. The floods are said to have killed up to 1,600 people. If such large water masses as in the Ukraine are now moving, then the Oblasts of Cherson and Zaporizhia will be endangered. Entire regions will be under water.

(Source: private)

To person

Prof. Dr. Wolf Dombrowsky, born in 1948, has been a professor of disaster management at the Steinbeis University in Berlin since 2008. From 2002 to 2008 he headed the Disaster Research Center of the Institute for Sociology at the University of Kiel.

The Ukrainian side says that around 16,000 people in up to 80 towns are affected. In the morning it was said that the water level would reach a critical level within five hours. Is it possible to get so many people out of the danger area to safety during this time?

The lake has a depth of about 30 meters. This has the advantage that the current is not particularly strong. So the chances are good. Most people should be saved. Nevertheless, enormous damage remains for Ukraine: the destruction will be enormous. Agriculture will also suffer.

What is particularly important now?

The infrastructure is crucial. The Ukrainian population is already on constant alert. Due to martial law, the military and civil protection are already working closely together. But the rescue and clean-up work will tie up an extremely large number of forces.

Map: Where the tidal wave is moving after the destruction of the Kachowka Dam
(Source: Heike Aßmann/t-online)

Do you also mean soldiers who should actually be fighting at the front?

That’s the way it is. Presumably transport vehicles have to be used, which are otherwise actually used by the military. This disaster has the potential to plunge the Ukrainian army into a crisis. That could strain, if not halt, the summer offensive.

How will the first hours in disaster relief work after the places are flooded?

First of all, those affected need food, water and shelter. This will be an enormous test. Even a country that isn’t at war can have problems on this scale.

Ukraine will probably not be able to cope with this alone anyway.

Absolutely no way. That overwhelms Ukraine and its civil protection. I can only hope that the international community will quickly offer their help.

Water masses break through the Kakhovka Dam: Ukraine and Russia blame each other. (What: t-online)


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