On the 28th February, 2010 Tempête Xynthia left a trail of death, devastation and destruction in its wake, coming in from the Atlantic, and forcing its way inland through much of France, Portugal and Spain, up into Belgium, the UK and Germany. In almost all of the countries other than France, the tempest was seen as a violent storm. In France, and especially in the area of the Vendée around L’Aiguillon sur Mer, it was nothing short of a disaster of almost biblical proportions. 51 people lost their lives, many in that one village, while a further dozen were missing, feared dead. Six people were killed in Germany, three in Spain, and one each in Belgium, Portugal and the UK.
France météorologistes named this the worst storm since those of ten years earlier, ‘Lothar’ & ‘Martin’.
I reported what happened in our area, in my ‘blog here – When The Wind Blows. At the time I was writing that, I had absolutely no idea what had happened elsewhere. We suffered electricity cuts for a week afterwards, therefore it was a day or two before I saw the newspapers, and the full extent of the damage. Over one million homes in France were left without power. Falling trees and debris damaged vehicles, property and people. We ourlselves escaped very lightly, given the number of trees we have on site here. One Catalpa did succumb to the winds, in excess of 130kph here, and very gently, and ever so slowly leaned and rested against our house. As frightening as it was, it was nothing compared to what L’Aiguillon sur Mer experienced.
When eventually, we regained power, we were able to switch on the TV and see for ourselves the reportages from the coast, and from the rest of France. Not just the images of floods, and of distraught family members mourning the loss of loved ones, but also the ‘hidden’ cost of Xynthia. The forestiers, their income lost and their potential ruined with the loss of so much forestry. The poor farmers that lost their herds of sheep & cattle to the floods, 1.5m deep. The pompiers working throughout the night to rescue old folks from their homes, frightened, wet and exhausted after what seemed to us to be one of the longest nights ever, what it felt like to them doesn’t bear thinking about.
The 200 year old sea wall at L’Aiguillon, built to last by Napoleon, breached by surf 7.5m (25ft) high. Rubble being moved by mechanical excavators, which only 48 hours earlier had been tossed around like lego bricks by the waves. What was left was a scene of utter devastation.
I suppose we’re getting used to scenes like these. We’re accustomed to images from far away places of dusty faces, tears and shattered lives. We think we’re immune in our substantial, well-built homes. We don’t believe anything like this could happen here, in a ‘civilised’ land. But it can, and it did.
But now, almost a year on, the French Government has outlined plans to mitigate the circumstances leading to the scale of the disaster. One of these reforms is to restrict planning permissions in low-lying coastal areas.
The ecology minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, announced a €500 million plan: Tempête Xynthia, un an après : des actions fortes pour prévenir les inondations, which will introduce building restrictions as well as reinforcement of protective seawalls.
Risk assessments and emergency plans will be undertaken in coastal areas, coupled with a total ban on new dykes being built that would have opened up ground for new building projects.
Météo France will be tasked with overseeing a new warning system along the coast, with extra government funding for meteorological radar and an extension of the areas under surveillance.
Around 1,200km of existing dykes and seawalls will be reinforced, and research is being done into tracing the private owners of dykes so that sea defences are uniform.
“A new awareness of the dangers of flooding and storms has to be gained”, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said.
We certainly hope so.
Until the next time, Au revoir.
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