Marseille is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, which Météo France placed on red alert for heavy rain and flooding on Monday. Schools in the area shut and people were warned not to leave their homes as two months’ worth of rain fell in a single day in the Mediterranean city, after heavy rains had already caused flooding on Sunday night.
The situation was compounded by the fact that uncollected garbage was blocking storm drains in certain parts of the city – drains which would normally be cleared ahead of heavy rain – and making it more difficult for emergency services to intervene.
The city’s waste collectors had begun clearing the streets on Saturday after an agreement between unions and local authorities put an end to an eight-day strike over an increase to working hours.
But rain over the weekend made the monumental job even more difficult, and the result was that “rivers of rubbish” flowed through the city’s streets on Monday.
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#Marseille. « Certains arrondissements subissent encore un surplus de déchets déposés sur la chaussée, notamment dans 1er, 4e, 5e, 6e et 7e arrondissements, qui n’ont pas pu être correctement nettoyés depuis le jeudi 23 septembre » informe @AMPMetropole
📸 prises dans le 7e pic.twitter.com/0YdPK0aZ4E
— Actu Marseille (@actufrmarseille) October 4, 2021
“Rubbish is everywhere. It’s a catastrophe,” biologist Isabelle Poitou, director of the MerTerre association, told AFP. “We’re expecting a strong mistral wind which will push the rubbish, which is currently making its way towards the sea, onto the beaches.”
“It’s vital to come and clear the rubbish from the beaches on Tuesday or Wednesday,” she added. “We need to act before the rubbish gets scattered in the sea at the first gust of wind.”
The video below tweeted by BFMTV journalist Cédric Faiche shows the state of a beach in Marseille early on Tuesday morning. “It’s been cleaned several times but cans and different types of plastic continue to arrive…” Faiche wrote.
However, Faiche told BFM there are similar scenes every time there is heavy rain in Marseille, even if the strike has made the situation even worse.
Une plage de Marseille recouverte de déchets après les fortes pluies des derniers jours.
Et encore, elle a été nettoyée plusieurs fois mais les canettes et plastiques divers continuent à arriver…@PremiereEdition @BFMTV pic.twitter.com/lS4qUPOL5M
— Cédric Faiche (@cedricfaiche) October 5, 2021
Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin shared a video of the “sad scene” captured in Marseille on Sunday night. “Discussions between trade unions and the city must not make us forget what really matters: we are all responsible for our seas and our oceans!” she said.
Triste scène à #Marseille où tous ces déchets finiront dans la mer Méditerranée… Les discussions entre les groupes syndicaux et la métropole ne doivent pas nous faire oublier l'essentiel : nous sommes tous responsables de nos mers et nos océans ! pic.twitter.com/EzHuSdRAPe
— Annick Girardin (@AnnickGirardin) October 4, 2021
“It’s unacceptable,” Christine Juste, deputy mayor in charge of the environment in Marseille told BFM on Tuesday, criticising the “lack of reactivity” in collecting leftover rubbish following the end of the strike on Friday.
“Why wait so long? In the 6th arrondissement, there has been no collection since the announcement that the strike was over,” she said.
The Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis intercommunal structure, rather than city hall, is in charge of rubbish collection in Marseille.
On Monday morning, the Metropolis dispatched 650 workers to clear away as much waste as possible ahead of the heaviest rainfall which was forecast for the afternoon.
On Monday evening, Marseille’s Mayor Benoît Payan told franceinfo that 3,000 tonnes of garbage were still yet to be collected in the city. “I asked the Prime Minister this evening to class the zone as a natural disaster,” he added.