Three in five people in France are at risk of a climate-linked natural disaster such as flooding, fire or ground movement – and the risk is worsening.
Global warming saw such disasters double in 20 years while major events – categorised as those that result in 10 or more deaths or €30million in damage – have quadrupled in France in the last 20 years, says the UN.
The Ecology Ministry said the major risks were flood, forest fires, avalanche and extreme weather, with severe fire risk in southern France plus forests in Brittany and Centre-Val de Loire.
Rural areas face subsidence and mountains face earthquakes
Overall, two-thirds of communes face flood risk and this is made worse as river beds are used for building and main transport links – a major factor in the fatal floods that hit the Alpes-Maritimes in October.
Residents in Breil-sur-Roya, a village behind Nice, said their homes were in a risk zone for earth tremors, but not for floods.
However, they saw a wall of mud and debris of wrecked houses and vehicles sweep down the valley, wiping out bridges, homes and businesses.
The Storm Alex floods are known to have caused at least five deaths in the Roya, Tinée and Vésubie valleys as rainfall of up to 500mm dropped 560 million tonnes of water in a few hours. Residents said it was “like a bombardment” as half a tonne of rain fell per square metre and streams grew into 100m-wide torrents.
People called it a “once in a generation” flood but the state’s weather service Météo France said it was the second this year on the Mediterranean arc, after the Gard on September 19.
With 2,000 homes swept away or damaged, hundreds have had to leave the valleys, while those who remain keep going through solidarity and mutual aid.
Power, phone and water supplies have mostly been restored but drinking water is bottled and often supplied by the helicopters which were the centre of a battle among local politicians focusing on problems in “their” valleys and getting aid there quickly.
In the Roya, cut off from north and south and with no phones, MP Alexandra Ardisson said no helicopters went there until two days after the disaster.
She joined President Macron on his helicopter visit as he “pledged to rebuild the rail line” which, while fragile, survived as 50km of road towards Italy was turned into “a mess of boulders”.
Rebuilding will take years but will be done to avoid creating the same problems of concentrating in flood risk areas.