Storm clouds clear as France counts cost

The storm clouds finally appeared to break on Friday as France’s meteorological service Météo France lifted the weather warnings that had been place across much of the country. The cost of the disaster is set to run into hundreds of millions of euros.

Storm clouds clear as France counts cost
French president Francois Hollande walks on a street of Saint-Beat two days after the village was submerged by flash floods, Photo:Pascal Pavani/AFP

The skies finally cleared above France on Friday after several days of extreme weather that saw violent storms, devastating floods and even tornados wreak havoc across much of the country.

On Thursday evening Météo France lifted the final Orange alerts that had been in place for 10 department in the north east of the country as well as for the Landes and Pyrénées departments in the south west which had been on alert for floods.

With the weather clearing the emphasis will shift to counting the cost of the damage, which is set to run into hundreds of millions of euros. Insurers say it still too early to predict the cost of the disaster although one forecast around €500 million.

French President François Hollande visited the south west of the country on Thursday, which has been worst hit by the floods.

The head of state confirmed that a state of natural disaster will soon be declared for the region and promised all the necessary support .

“Everything will be done,” Hollande said.

The head of state paid a visit to the town of pilgrimage Lourdes and its Catholic shrine, which was submerged under raging flood waters earlier this week.

Lourdes sanctuary told The Local on Thursday the shrine may never recover and the town’s mayor said they faced ‘economic disaster’.

Hollande pledged his support.

“Everything will be done to allow the sanctuaries to reopen as soon as possible. I cannot work miracles but it will be down to the will of the people to achieve this,” Hollande said.

France’s Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said emergency measures would be announced to help farmers whose livelihoods had been washed away in the floods.

Le Foll said the country’s disaster fund would be made available to help the agriculture industry recover.

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Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.