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Rouen offered rooms across France after toxic fire

People across France have been offering their spare bedrooms to Rouen residents seeking to leave the Normandy town after the recent Lubrizol chemical fire sent toxic clouds of black smoke into the air.

The offers have been sent through a new Facebook group set up in the aftermath of the incident, which happened on Thursday September 26.

More than 2,700 people have already joined the group - named Propositions et demandes d'hébergement pour les habitants de Rouen (Offers and requests of accommodation for the inhabitants of Rouen) - and there are already around 1,000 offers of accommodation from across the country.

Lucie, one of the page managers, told news source 20 Minutes: “We have had many offers of accommodation. What we wish today, is that every Rouen inhabitant has the material, financial and professional choice to stay or not. Even if it is only for a few days, while we wait for analysis [of the situation]. It is just about taking precautions.”

The group was set up by several mothers, who were chatting to each other on a baby advice page when the idea came about.

Jordane Ott, another of the page managers, told the website “A woman in the group lives in Rouen. She was worried for her children and was asking herself what she could do. Everyone is asking a lot of questions after what happened. It is urgent!

“People’s health is at risk: there are children, pregnant women, and elderly people who have been affected. We cannot let this happen; someone had to do something.”

Offers on the page stipulate how many people and children may be accommodated, and whether the offer is for a separate spare room, sofa, or mattress. Some people have even said they will come to pick their guests up from a nearby train station.

No payment is being taken for the offers, which have come from all over France, including the Paris area, Pas-de-Calais, Occitanie, the Hautes-Pyrénées and beyond.

Yet, page manager Lucie said: “Offers have come from all over the country, but alas, the daily realities of most Rouen inhabitants (work, children, finances) mean that most cannot go far.”

The page managers are now considering further actions to help, including the creation of another, smaller, and private group, which is seeking to provide more specific, local help to Rouen inhabitants.

One manager said: “Let us allow things to settle. As with other industrial incidents, it will take a bit of time for groups to form. This is only the beginning.”


Fire health concerns

The actions come after a serious fire was declared at the Seveso Lubrizol chemical storage facility near Rouen, on the night of Wednesday September 25 and Thursday September 26.

A thick, black cloud of smoke covered Rouen as a result, with residents concerned about the possible pollution in the air, despite local authorities seeking to reassure inhabitants. Residue from the fire fell over the town, and a strong smell of hydrocarbon was reported.

Schools in the area were closed after the incident, to allow cleanup of the black soot in playgrounds, according to Pierre-Andre Durand, head of authorities in the Seine-Maritime (Normandy).

He said that tests had found that there were no harmful toxins in the air and water of the town, but advised that people with respiratory problems might wish to avoid going outside for a few days. He also said there was unlikely to be any long term damage to the Seine river or dependent water sources.

Health minister Agnès Buzyn has admitted that “the town is clearly polluted”.

Yet, she added that early investigations appear “rather reassuring”, and that the pollution appears unlikely to have “long term consequences” but may be “irritating in the short term”.

A local ecologist, Enora Chopard, called Ms Buzyn’s words “paradoxical”, and said: “It seems unlikely that there is no danger to health when there is a strong smell of gas in the air and black soot falling on the ground. We even saw dead birds...People are reassuring us without giving us the facts, which is quite worrying.”

The toxic cloud has already travelled across other French regions - including the Aisne and Oise - and reached as far as Belgium, a crisis centre in Flanders confirmed today (Sunday September 29).

The cloud is currently thought to be near the Netherlands.

A police investigation into the cause of the fire is underway, and there is currently a 500-metre cordon set up around the site.

Lubrizol ‘embarrassed’ and ‘shocked’

Isabelle Striga, general director of Lubrizol, told news source FranceInfo: “I am really embarrassed that our economic activity has had this effect on the population. I visited the venue myself, the night of the incident, and I saw the extent of the fire, and I immediately thought of the residents nearby because it was a large incident.

“It is we constantly make an effort with security, for us and for our workers...we do not yet understand [what happened], but that it not the main concern. For the moment, our concern is with securing the site to allow workers to come back to work in the buildings.”

Frédéric Henry, CEO of Lubrizol, said: “We have learned a lot from previous incidents, [but] this is very different, and we did not envisage that a fire would start in this area, where there was nothing going on, only stock storage. We are extremely shocked.”

He added: “I understand that people will ask questions, but I do not say that there are reasons to worry about [people’s] health, because State services and [air monitoring service] ATMO Normandie have been extremely vigilant.”

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