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UPDATE: Fire at French chemical factory ‘will burn for days’

Thick black smoke billowed over the northern French town of Rouen on Thursday after a spectacular fire broke out at a chemical factory, forcing authorities to close schools and warn of potential pollution risks for the nearby Seine river.

UPDATE: Fire at French chemical factory 'will burn for days'
Photo: AFP/Jean-Jacques Ganon

The blaze broke out in the early hours of Thursday at the Lubrizol plant in Rouen – a large factory that is classified as Seveso, or high risk, because of the nature of the chemicals it produces.

READ ALSO French chemical factory explosion – what you need to know

“Let's not panic about this situation, but we need to be very careful,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told RTL radio, adding that “there is nothing to make us believe there is a risk from the smoke.”

Castaner later said that it could take days before the fire is extinguished.

“The fight they will have to wage to get the situation fully under control will take several days, maybe even weeks,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said after arriving at the site.

But later on Thursday morning the government's top official for the region said the fire at the chemical plant poses a pollution risk for the nearby Seine river.

 “We're still fighting the blaze, with the risk that pollution could spill into the Seine if retention ponds overflow,” Pierre-Andre Durand told journalists.

 

Photo: AFP/@MosierJ

 

 

Warning sirens were sounded in Rouen and nearby Petit-Quevilly and residents have been warned to stay indoors and limit their movements as far as possible today, as a precaution.

 

 

The préfet of the Seine-Maritime region told French media on Thursday morning that there is “no acute toxicity in the main molecules” of the smoke that is being released, according to initial analyses.

However he added that “as a precautionary measure” residents of Rouen and 11 surrounding areas should “limit their movements to what is strictly necessary” on Thursday.

The préfecture has also announced the closure of schools in Rouen and areas north of the town. The municipalities concerned are: Rouen, Bois-Guillaume, Mont-Saint-Aignan, Isneauville, Quincampoix, Saint-Georges-sur-Fontaine, Saint-André-sur-Cailly, La Rue-Saint-Pierre, Saint-Germain-Sous-Cailly, Cailly, Bosc-Guérard-Saint-Adrien.

There were around 200 firefighters battling the blaze on Thursday morning, and plumes of smoke could be seen from several kilometres away. 

 “The smoke is really striking and wherever you are in Rouen you can see it,” Marina Andre, a 25-year-old who works in a bar near the factory, told AFP.

“You can smell fuel, not really a burned smell, it's very distinctive,” she said, adding that people were still going to work and even cycling near the site of the blaze on the bank of the Seine river.

The fire broke out at around 2.50am on Thursday, followed shortly afterwards by a series of explosions which woke many local residents.

 

A spokesman for the factory said that “the fire started in a storage facility for packaged products such as lubricant additives”.

A 500m perimeter has now been set up around the site.

The factory on the edge of the river Seine in Rouen belongs to US multinational Lubrizol, which is owned by billionaire American investor Warren Buffett.

In January 2013, it was responsible for a giant leak of the gas mercaptan, which smells like cabbage or rotten eggs.

It blew all the way to Paris and across the Channel into southern England where residents complained about the smell.

In 2015, 2,000 litres of mineral oil, which is used in lubricants, leaked into the local sewer system in Rouen, which is famed for its cathedral.

 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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