The French interior minister has confirmed that a state of natural disaster will be declared in southwest France, after floods and a landslide have devastated parts of the Pays Basque and surrounding areas.
Authorities in the affected areas have said that the floodwaters could last “at least eight days, if not up to 15”.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin yesterday (December 11) said that the state of “natural disaster (catastrophe naturelle)” would be declared.
During a visit to Bayonne, he said: “61 communes have been very badly affected”, with more than 400 firefighters called out in Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Auprès des commerçants et des habitants de #Bayonne, qui depuis hier subissent de fortes intempéries et une crue impressionnante.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) December 11, 2021
Je leur apporte tout mon soutien.
L’Etat sera réactif avec un examen rapide des demandes de reconnaissance de catastrophe naturelle. pic.twitter.com/DJM4CNPYRs
Floods hit the region on Friday, December 10, causing damage in several communes, including a landslide that submerged a car in Biriatou in Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Some houses were also threatened by the slip, with residents in Bidassoa still on alert and some having been rehomed while their homes are secured. Some are staying with relatives and others in local hotels.
Raynald Bouchon, local planning minister, told FranceInfo: "We have kept in touch with the rehoused occupants so that they can come back this morning to feed their animals and look for a few things.”
Some houses remain flooded as some communes drain slowly, including in Guiche and Urt.
Resident Ludovic Fiorotto said that his family had been trapped by the rising water, and their only way of moving around would be by boat.
He said: “Here, we still have 1.60m of water. So yesterday evening, we had some people come to help us carry our things upstairs.”
Some areas had snow as well as severe flooding, with waters rising in several communes in Landes, including Peyrehorade, Oeyregave, Hastingues, Orthevielle and Sorde-l'Abbaye. Over 200 homes in that area were affected, including 450 people.
Roads are still closed in many areas.
But Mr Darmanin said: “I thank the emergency services, the authorities, the police. There were no victims. Things will slowly go back to normal."
A Peyrehorade, avec @gdarrieussecq, aux côtés des sapeurs-pompiers, des gendarmes, des associations de sécurité civile et des élus mobilisés pour protéger nos concitoyens victimes ces dernières heures de violentes intempéries et des inondations.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) December 11, 2021
Hommage à nos héros du quotidien! pic.twitter.com/mK0ss4O9pk
The departments of Landes, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, and Gers are still on orange alert for flooding, Météo France said.
What does ‘catastrophe naturelle’ mean?
This condition must be confirmed by the government. It essentially requires insurance companies to properly and promptly compensate the affected claimants.
Mr Darmanin said: “[It means] we can use the strength of the state to require insurance companies to pay insurance and better compensate local communities and shopkeepers.”
He added that “usually it takes two months to establish the state of ‘catastrophe naturelle’”, but he said that he had enacted it within four days in view of the severity of the situation.
The process begins with local authorities such as mayors beginning to assess the extent of the damage, with details then sent to the interior minister.
Insurers must confirm response within two months, and pay the insured within three months, of the state officially being declared by le Journal Officiel, following the government’s estimate of the value of damage.