Christmas miracle: German flood victims receive tiny houses

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BERLIN, Dec 23 (Reuters) - For Franziska Hilberath, whose home in western Germany's Ahr valley was destroyed by flash floods this summer, it was a Christmas miracle to be able to move into a donation-financed "tiny house" this month just in time for the holidays.

Hilberath and her partner have been sleeping at the homes of friends and relatives since Germany's most lethal floods in six decades in July that killed more than 180 people and destroyed many houses, roads, railway lines and bridges.

They were on the waiting list for "tiny houses" to stay in while fixing up their old, half-timbered house, where water had reached the ground floor ceiling when the Ahr River burst its banks in the wake of record rainfall.

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But they did not expect to get one until February at the earliest. So it was with glee that they received a phone call last week saying they could move in already.

"We have actually now at short notice still got a tree and started to somehow decorate - something we had completely ruled out for this year," said Hilberath.

The government has set up a 30 billion euro ($34 billion) recovery fund to help western and southern Germany rebuild after the floods.

But citizens' initiatives have also raised millions of euros - some of which are now going to fund the construction of tiny houses as frigid temperatures set in and many flood-hit buildings remain without heating or electricity.

So far, 25 tiny homes measuring some 30 square meters (323 square feet) each have been handed over to flood victims like Hilberath in the town of Grafschaft. Each house has a bathroom, bedroom and open kitchen and comes fully equipped with bed linen, kettle and coffee maker.

"They are ready to move into, so people don't have to organize anything big anymore, but can move in directly and, so to speak, process here what they have experienced," Grafschaft spokesperson Thomas Hergarten said.

Hilberath said her tiny home is not big enough for her Christmas tree which instead bedecks the terrace but she was still grateful for the people who had helped put a roof over her head.

"We're glad to have arrived here, glad to have privacy again and not spend the night on someone's couch or airbed," she said.

($1 = 0.8824 euros)

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Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Richard Chang

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