46% of Communes in Flood Risk Zones

A year after Storm Xynthia caused 53 deaths and 1.5 billion euros damage, much of it in Charente-Maritime, towns along both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines remain vulnerable to further sea and river flooding.

Look before you leap. With 46% of French coastal communities subject to flood risk, its wise to check with town hall before buying a house. (Photo: French News Online)

The SOeS-Service de l’Observation et des Statistiques de l’Environnement warned that 46% of French municipalities are today still at risk of major flooding, a report that coincided with the government’s unveiling of a national plan to deal with the threat.

The Midi Libre newspaper says Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has set out a 60-point plan to manage flood risk around the country with a budget of €500 million to be spent through to 2016 on national flooding and flood prevention programmes.

This relatively parsimonious sum was immediately criticised by Cédric Bonato, maire of Aigues-Mortes in the Gard (30220), who called it, “ a drop in the ocean … the cost of building 10 metres of dyke comes in at €100,000” he said, urging that the country produce a national plan to tackle dyke building with the same vigour as has been done by the Netherlands.

He should know, the fortified town of Aigues-Mortes on the Canal du Rhône started building its fine fortification against invaders (from the Republic of Genoa, and the sea), in 1285.

The Camargue, according to M, Bonato, rose by 1.5 metres in the last bad floods along the coast, and he suggested coastal authorities might consider insisting that new homes be built on floating foundations.

Aigues Mortes takes floods seriously!

As local officials along the Languedoc coast launch into the nationwide campaign for cantonal elections due March 27 , the ministerial anti flood announcements are a godsend for political grandstanding.

Residents of sea front towns from the Spanish border to the Camargue have been summoned to civic centre meetings to learn of the dangers they face, of plans and proposed measures and to hear the accounts of others who have lived through it all before, particularly in 1982.

In Frontignan-Plage (Hérault) many residents still recall the horrors of the 1982 floods when waters rose 1.5 metres in a matter of hours causing great damage to life and property. In the aftermath property prices plunged along the coast.

However people have short memories and the minister herself appeared a little cynical on making her announcement, claiming, probably correctly, that flood disasters and the dangers they pose to populations in affected zones tend to be forgotten at the end of 5 years “when housing prices start to inflate until the next storm disaster.”

The national plan now being unveiled across the country — its regional derivatives can be consulted and examined at town halls in coastal zones around the country until mid March — also calls for the reinforcement of around 1,200 km of dykes between 2011 and 2016 out of the total 8,000 km of river and coastal dykes in France.

According to Rachida Boughriet writing on the Actu-Environnement website: The plan is that within 3 years, 242 coastal towns will be covered by risk prevention plans (PPR) while the existing PPR’s of 68 other municipalities will be reviewed and updated.

Since June 2010, more than 500 new plans have been approved by Prefectures. Nearly 8,420 municipalities are covered by the approved PPRs as at end January 2011, and 85% of these are considered to be at risk of flooding. Improvements are also being made to weather monitoring, forecasting, vigilance and alerting with Météo France due to set up a special weather alert about ocean flood threats for each coastal department, by end 2011.

At a news conference to announce the plans the minister also dealt with the ongoing cleanup and loss compensation for those affected by the midwinter February 2010 storm that hit Vendee and Charente-Maritime and those affected in the Var by a freak flash flood on June 15 2010.

To date she said the state has acquired 876 of the 1,574 homes in the Vendee and Charente-Maritime due to be demolished because they are built on flood plains, and released 225 million euros to pay compensation. Demolishing will start this March, she said.

Back in Frontignan, according to Midi Libre, home-owners were not happy to be told that coastal authorities were reassessing flood risks along the coast and new plans would be published for consultation at town halls. To concerns about whether their homes were under threat of compulsory purchase and demolishing, they were told to consult the plans and discuss individual cases with their local Maires.

Midi Libre says the government’s national plan will be introduced to 242 so far unaffected coastal communes by 2014 of which 47 are in the Languedoc region where 25 towns alone are listed for priority flood risk attention: Vic la Gardiole, Balaruc Les Bains, Balaruc Le Vieux, Le Grau du Roi, Agde, Aigues Mortes, Vias, Sète, Bouzigues, Frontignan, Loupian, Mèze, Mireval, Sérignan, Poussan, Lattes, La Grande Motte, Fleury, Gruissan, Narbonne Plage, Leucale, La Barcarès, Marseillan, Saint-Cyprien and Elne.

Story: Ken Pottinger

UPDATE: There are links to some flood maps and discussion on flooding in the Languedoc here


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