French floods: Clean-up begins as bill could hit €2bn

It could be a while before Paris and other parts of France are back to normal.

French floods: Clean-up begins as bill could hit €2bn
Photo: AFP

The water pumps have been drafted into Paris and elsewhere, while towns across the north are facing a huge clean-up operation after the “devastating floods”.

The floods in France have taken their toll. President Francois Hollande described them as a “real catastrophe”.

As well as four deaths and at least 24 injured, the bill for the damage caused by rivers such as the Seine, the Loing and the Yonne breaking their banks is expected to be anything between €600 million and €2 billion.

On Monday a crisis meeting will take place among government ministers to determine the real impact of the floods and how to aid the recovery.

The Prime Minister Manuel Valls will also hold a meeting with France’s biggest insurers to make sure the victims of the floods are compensated for all their losses.

Even before then he announced that an emergency fund containing several millions of euros would be set up to offer financial aid to those who have lost everything.

This week the areas worst affected will be declared “natural disaster” zones, meaning residents and businesses will find it easier to claim on insurance.

As the flood waters of the Seine receded in Paris on Monday to around 5.38 metres above its normal height, after reaching 6.10 metres on Friday night, authorities were in a race against time to get the river banks open before the start of the Euro 2016 football tournament.

The normally busy roads and walkways that pass along the river remained closed, and will do for some days. Flooded riverside bars and restaurants and those located on barges will desperately be hoping they can reopen before the massive influx of visitors for the tournament.

Several train lines were affected, including the RER C, which remains closed along the River Seine. It’s not expected to reopen for several days. St Michel Metro station is also shut due to the floods.

France’s famous museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, will remain closed until Tuesday at least.

But it was outside Paris that the real damage took place, especially in the départements of Loiret and Seine-et-Marne.

Thousands of residents in towns such as Nemours and Montargis saw their homes submerged while shop owners were also left counting the costs as the town centres were inundated by the floods.

Many are still unable to return home.

Hundreds of cars were submerged before their owners could get them to higher ground, while scores of vehicles that became blocked on the A10 motorway were being cleared on Sunday.

On Monday morning orange alert warnings from the country’s weather service Météo France were still in place for 14 départements – mainly in the Ile-de-France region around Paris and Normandy.

More storms and rain are due, but authorities do not believe flood levels will be affected.

In Rouen, further downstream from the Seine from Paris, the water levels were also receding after at one point hitting 9.3 metres above normal levels.

Some of those worst affected were French farmers, many of whom saw their crops and their potential harvests ruined in the flood.

France’s environment minister Segolene Royal called on towns and villages to be fitted with sirens in future so residents can be warned of future floods.

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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.