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Dordogne town battered by hail is left in limbo by French insurers

Residents of Ribérac have to live with makeshift tarpaulin for roofs after a violent hailstorm in June - they are losing patience

Emergency tarpaulins still cover many homes in Ribérac after giant hailstones ‘turned tiles to rubble’ on June 20 Pic: ick Jenkins

The red-tiled roofs of a popular Dordogne market town are still covered by tarpaulins 10 weeks after a violent hailstorm battered the area.

Many repairs will not be started for 18 months, or even longer, due to a shortage of roofers and tiles – and enormous insurance paperwork.

Read more: Vehicles, homes: claiming compensation for weather damage in France

Hail smashed through window

Hundreds of Ribérac homes and thousands of cars were damaged by giant hailstones on June 20.

Reader Astrid Watts, whose home in the village of Vanxains, about 5km from Ribérac, was damaged, said: “It was like suddenly being in a war zone. We realised it was no ordinary storm when a hailstone the size of a golf ball smashed through a window and bounced on the carpet. 

“The noise was terrible and we were running from window to window trying to stop water and hail coming in, but in the meantime two sides of our tiled roof were turned to rubble.”

Read more: Photos: ‘Ping-pong’ ball size hailstones destroy roofs in France

Injured by hail and falling tiles

Earlier in the day, locals had welcomed forecasts of evening rain after an early June heatwave.

Gérard Hidskes, a Dutch estate agent who has lived in Ribérac for 40 years, said: “Instead, we got a wall of hail being blown down the street. It was frightening.

“It’s the fourth big hailstorm we have had in 40 years and although the hailstones, the size of a ping pong ball, were not as big as the last one, when they were the size of oranges, the fact they were being blown about and mixed with torrents of rain made it more intense.”

Several people were injured by the hailstones and by falling tiles.

Gérard Hidskes was told roof repairs would happen next year; Photo: Brian McCulloch

Different insurers involved

Mr Hidskes owns three buildings in the town and all were damaged.

It has been estimated that one in four properties in the town centre was affected. 

However, the mairie says no official register of damage can be established because of the different insurers involved.

Mr Hidskes said an “armada” of agents had visited. “For each of my buildings, there has been a different insurance person, and a different expert [to assess the value of damage].

“Then a different department arrived for my cars, even though it is all with the same company, Axa.”

Next year at earliest for roof repairs

Mr Hidskes, 70, found builders who he said did a good job with emergency tarpaulins. 

Now he has received a notice from the mairie saying he has to ensure that these, like many others weighed down with broken tiles or tyres, are secured. 

This will cost another €2,000 for wooden battens to be laid over the tarps, which his insurance firm has agreed to pay.

“Most people are insured with €250 excess for home insurance and €750 for business insurance so it will cost them even if the insurance pays out in full.

“I’ve had an estimate for my roofs of €34,000 for my home and €76,000 for my flats, but they say it will be next year at the earliest for repairs,” he said.

Lack of building materials due to war in Ukraine

Parts of Ribérac are near the Dronne river and le Ribér­aguet stream, which became raging torrents during the storm, flooding several houses.

Local builders are reportedly swamped with work and also have issues obtaining tiles, with supplies affected by the war in Ukraine. 

Garages are also being overrun by work on smashed glass and dents. 

Mr Hidskes said he was waiting for news about his dented Citroën C5. “Some people say that if a car was bought before 2016, it will be scrapped. Mine is on the limit.”

Schools open despite damage

Ribérac is one of 25 Dordogne communes where a natural disaster was officially decreed related to flooding and mudslides on August 11, allowing those affected to claim under their catastrophe naturelle insurance clauses.

Read more: June flooding and mudslides recognised as natural disasters in France

Claims for hail come under the ‘storms, snow and hail’ sections of standard home insurance contracts and are not affected by the decree.

The mairie hopes to open the two schools again this month, despite heavy damage, and also faces repairs to the cinema and multi-purpose hall, as well as the old Saint-Jean Baptiste church. 

It has ap­pealed for more help from the state. 

‘People are starting to lose patience with insurers’

Mrs Watts’ husband Philip  said he was able to replace broken windows with some new ones that the couple had in stock, and their insurance firm quickly put a tarpaulin with wooden battens on the roof.

The couple have a €37,000 estimate for full roof repairs but cannot sign off the claim because they say the insurance company, Pacifica, has been slow. 

Similarly, the €12,000 estimate for Mr Watts’ BMW, insured by Generali, has not been approved. 

The firm arranged for it to be towed to a garage – which then shut for holidays.

Mr Watts was able to replace smashed tail lights on his wife’s Seat and the couple drove it to Bergerac for the front windscreen replacement – but no parts were available for a smashed back and side window.

“People are starting to get very impatient with insurers and there are stories circulating that insurers are making offers which are half what the estimates were,” Mrs Watts said. 

“Hopefully, things will speed up. In our hamlet of seven homes, all were badly damaged and everyone is still waiting.”

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