The aftermath of the deluge

We finished writing last week’s blog around 5 o’clock on the Saturday just as the worst of the torrential rain ended. The extent of the damage to both life and property didn’t however really become apparent until Sunday or the Monday when people returned to work. It emerged that it was very substantial and without doubt the worst flood damage since the catastrophic deluge of summer 2010. The current death toll stands at four and there’s been an awful lot of damage to property and particularly vehicles. Talking to two separate people today in the insurance trade on Tuesday we learned that each of them alone had been dealing with 40 to 60 wrecked vehicles on the first few days after the flood. Insurance companies – and car hire firms – have been almost overwhelmed and transporters carrying replacement cars from northern and central France have been spotted driving into the area. One suspects that Peugeot, Citroen and Renault are going to be able to declare an unexpected spike in sales at the end of November.

This breakdown truck had removed over 60 cars the previous day and was due to do nearly 40 that day.

The damage was not simply due to gently rising water slowly inundating property as in some British floods. Here the rivers and streams have moved with extraordinary force, eroding riverbanks and throwing tons of gravel across roads and into gardens. In this area there are many stone walls consisting of nothing more than rugged blocks of limestone piled on top of each other, held together with nothing more than a bit of clay. The torrential rain weakened many such walls and caused their collapse, often into roads. Trees too, have tumbled over with the combination of wind and saturated soils and there’s a lot of mud around too.  So, all in all, the rescue services been very busy indeed.

The water the day before had been up to half the height of the gateposts: this road has been partly cleared of the mud that had covered it.

In general, however there has been a vague sense of achievement. After the catastrophe of 2010 which took everyone by surprise and resulted in a death toll of at least 30, great efforts were made to improve warning systems and prepare for the better deployment of the very substantial rescue services in the area. The result were many rescues; with some particularly impressive statistics for people being winched to safety or rescued by boats. The general mood seems to be that good planning has allowed the area to be spared what could have been an utter disaster.

But the state cannot take all the credit. One interesting phenomenon that has arisen since 2010 has been social media, with the rapid almost real-time input of user-submitted information. So for instance there has been a tremendously useful Facebook page (Météo-Varoise) run by a young meteorologist, Yohan Laurito, which has not just simply given predictions but also posted constant updates (complete with videos!) from individuals on water levels and blocked roads. Equally helpful has been the GPS navigation software Waze which allows individual drivers to see flooding and road closures. 

As to whether the storm was due to climate change is of course difficult to prove. But the repetition of two ‘100 year’ storms in nine years should give pause for thought. The undeniable fact is that the Mediterranean waters are getting warmer which means that there is more water vapour in the atmosphere and more energy to drive storms. As for us well, although we didn’t get asked to take in any refugees by the Lorgues Mairie, it turned out that two old friends and fellow members of the church at Cannes in Taradeau had had their house flooded and their car was a write-off. So they’ve come up to stay with us while they try to sort out things with insurance. When we went down to get them on the Sunday afternoon there was a team from the Taradeau Mairie and some volunteers helping out with cleaning up. We were not entirely surprised that we knew almost everybody and most of them had worked with us up in the long project to clean up the Gallo-Roman oppidum. The old rule that it’s 15% of the people that do 85% of the work seems to apply down here.

Starting the clean-up

Anyway the sun is out, the temperature is back up in the mid teens, everybody is basking in the sun and the Fire Brigade – les sapeur-pompiers – are cleaning up their vehicles. Ready for the next time.

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