State of emergency declared in parts of France following heavy rainfall and flooding

A pedestrian walks past a bakery in a flooded street in Saint-Etienne-au-Mont, Pas-de-Calais on Wednesday
A pedestrian walks past a bakery in a flooded street in Saint-Etienne-au-Mont, Pas-de-Calais on Wednesday Copyright FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue with AFP
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The regions of Pas-de-Calais and Haute-Savoie have been particularly badly affected, with thousands forced to evacuate and many still without electricity or heating.

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Parts of eastern and northern France are in a state of emergency, following devastating floods which have caused the collapse of roads, forced thousands to evacuate their waterlogged homes and seen the closure of schools and public buildings.

While the region of Pas-de-Calais, in northern France, has been downgraded from red to orange alert, residents of the Alps of Haute-Savoie in eastern France have been kept on high alert.

In Pas-de-Calais, more rain is forecast on Thursday, a lull on Friday and more storms over the weekend.

The town of Saint-Étienne-au-Mont in Pas-de-Calais has been flooded since Tuesday evening and the roads are still blocked.

The mayor of the neighbouring town of Saint-Léonard, Gwenaëlle Loire, says "people have lost everything", describing the community as a “ghost town”.

A view of a flooded street in the badly affected Pas-de-Calais town of Saint-Léonard
A view of a flooded street in the badly affected Pas-de-Calais town of Saint-LéonardCHARLES CABY/AFP via Getty Images

Many people there have been forced to take refuge on the upper floor of their houses - and Loire is concerned the situation might get worse still.

"There was up to 1.50m of water in the houses, it's unprecedented, it's unheard of" and "the aftermath will be very complicated, because houses will become unsanitary", she told AFP, adding that she knows people will likely abandon the town completely.

The Red Cross are also on the scene, with Fabienne Berquier, the head of the charity in Pas-de-Calais saying, “Houses are completely uninhabitable”.

Many houses, she says, are still without heating or electricity. Sustainable rehousing solutions are the next step.

President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with members of rescue teams in Blendecques, northern France on Tuesday
President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with members of rescue teams in Blendecques, northern France on TuesdayAURELIEN MORISSARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Visiting Pas-de-Calais, president Emmanuel Macron announced a support fund of some €50 million to help the affected communities.

Jean-Claude Leroy, the president of the Departmental Council of Pas-de-Calais, says though, that the figure simply “won’t be enough”.

Since 6 November, around 1,400 people have been evacuated in Pas-de-Calais because of these floods, exceptional in their duration and intensity.

“Many residents are at the end of their rope.”
Jean-Christophe Castelain
Deputy mayor of Blendecques, Pas-de-Calais

Many more in Haute Savoie have also been forced to leave their homes.

The French national meteorological service Météo-France say the heavy rainfall and flooding is a worrying sign: “This is the first time that the country has recorded such an accumulation over 26 consecutive days in all seasons,” referring to the situation between 18 October and 12 November.

Meteorologists say that although these kinds of storms do constitute natural phenomena, floods, cyclones and droughts can be amplified by global warming.

The mountain villages of Argentière, Vallorcine and Reposoir in the Haute-Savoie region were isolated due to roads cut by mudslides or rock falls.

Nearly 300 homes in Etrembières remain without electricity and the basements of the city hospital were flooded, but pumps were installed and no patients had to be evacuated.

In a nursing home in Esserts-Blay, 31 one people were evacuated and the entire French Alps remain on orange alert.

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A nightmare for farmers: A flooded farm in the town of Montcravel, Pas-de-Calais
A nightmare for farmers: A flooded farm in the town of Montcravel, Pas-de-CalaisANTHONY BRZESKI/AFP via Getty Images

A fund for farmers

The Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, has announced a fund of some €80m to support farmers affected by the storms and floods in Brittany, Normandy and Hauts-de-France.

Storms Ciaran and Domingos have severely affected farmers in those regions, many who have had greenhouses uprooted, buildings flooded or crops submerged under water.

Fesneau indicated that "200 cattle" had perished, "drowned by the sudden rise in water" and announced there were at least "several thousand hectares" of sugar beet crops alone which "will not be able to be harvested.”

The French government is also taking further practical steps.

During his visit to one of the affected regions, president Macron announced that he had entrusted the mayor of Saint-Omer with a mission to improve the drainage systems from waterways to the sea, taking inspiration for example from the Netherlands. It’s a move that will likely be replicated across Europe as climate change continues to affect more and more people’s daily lives.

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