France to declare areas of ‘natural disaster’ after storms batter country

Farmers in southeast France have been left counting the costs from lost harvests after fierce storms battered the region with hail the size of ping-pong balls, decimating orchards and vineyards just as the summer season was kicking into high gear.

France to declare areas of 'natural disaster' after storms batter country
Damaged vineyards in south east France. Photo: AFP

“Pretty much my entire harvest is ruined,” said Gregory Chardon who grows apricots, peaches and cherries at his farm in La Roche-de-Glun in the Drome department, about an hour's drive south of Lyon.


Even the netting strung over his fields was no match for the tempest of hail which suddenly struck on Saturday afternoon, strewing the ground with damaged fruit and broken branches.

READ ALSO: What does a state of 'natural disaster' actually mean in France?

Agriculture minister Didier Guillaume meets farmers in La Roche de Glun. Photo: AFP

“The damage is enormous and widely spread – cereals, greenhouse and vegetable farms, and vineyards as well,” Chardon said.

In the neighbouring village of Pont-de-L'Isere, Aurelien Esprit showed apricots littering the ground and battered apple trees at his orchards in a Facebook video.

“Unfortunately the season ended for us last night. I don't think I'm going to make it this time,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said the state would declare a natural emergency to trigger insurance payments and other help to farmers facing huge losses.

“It's catastrophic, I've rarely seen scenes like this,” Guillaume told BFM television while touring the area Sunday. “It's unthinkable that farmers would be forced into bankruptcy because of this.”

Apricots damaged by the hailstorms. Photo: AFP

The epicentre of the storm was at Romas-sur-Isere where streets were turned into raging torrents.

The hail shattered car windshields and severely damaged the roofs of dozens of homes, including smashing the sunlight on the roof of a gymnasium where a judo competition was being held.

In the neighbouring Haute-Savoie region, a 51-year-old German woman was a killed after a tree fell on her camper during the storm.

Rescue workers responded to hundreds of calls for help and officials said 10 people were injured.

 “Weather episodes as violent as this are quite rare, and I've never seen one like it in this area,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Herve Gabion of the fire brigade for the Drome department.

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Storm Amelie pummels France with gales and torrential downpours

Storm winds blasted southwest France Sunday, whipping up giant ocean waves, uprooting trees and leaving some 140,000 people without electricity, authorities said.

Storm Amelie pummels France with gales and torrential downpours

Fourteen of the country’s 100-odd departments were placed on high alert as storm Amelie brought heavy rains to the Atlantic coast, with winds exceeding 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour in places.

Emergency services attended to hundreds of callouts as gusts dropped trees on roads and railway tracks and tore loose live electrical cables.

No deaths or injuries have been reported. Weather service Meteo France said winds as strong as 163 km/h were recorded in the coastal departments of Gironde and Landes, and 121 km/h in Bordeaux.

Electricity supplier Enedis said it was working round the clock to restore electricity to some 140,000 customers left without power by the storm. In the Landes department, 47 people had to be evacuated from a camp site, and a casino roof collapsed.

Several trains in the area were cancelled or delayed, according to the SNCF railway operator.

The southeast of France was not spared, with heavy rainfall forcing the evacuation of a gypsy camp. More than two dozen motorists had to be rescued as their cars got stuck in the deluge.

Several shops and homes in the southeast had their basements flooded.