FRANCE RETURNS TO NORMAL

photo: la coupole

A Montparnasse landmark since 1927.

New Years Eve In Paris

Paris:- Friday, 31. December 1999:- At noon today France's electricity supplier EDF said it expected that no more than 500,000 households would be without power by this evening.

Surrounding countries have sent electricity professionals to France to aid EDF in reestablishing current. Bluntly put, EDF lost the majority of its power transmission network.

All customers without power at midnight will receive a free 'subscription' from EDF throughout 2000, which is a small compensation. This is the fixed monthly charge that is unrelated to rates charged for consumption of electricity and gas.

Rail transport is back to 98 percent of normal in France, with only the major lines of Limoges-Montauban, Paris-Granville and Nantes-Bordeaux still out of action.

Hardware suppliers have been stripped of stocks for household repairs and roofing tile factoriesphoto: flooded river seine are running 24-hour shifts. Army units are now on the scene, aiding residents in many areas of France. Insurance assessors are working long hours.

The Seine yesterday, at the Pont Neuf. The quay is to the left of the barges.

President Jacques Chirac toured disaster areas yesterday. Fixed-sum government figures for aid are giving way to promises of no-limit aid - because the scope of destruction does not neatly fit into the usual conception of localized disasters.

A reminder to readers; 'hurricane Aude' ravaged southern France in mid-November, and this area was run over again during Monday's 2nd storm.

The oil spill is not under control, but another army of government workers, civilians and military engineers are tackling the situation. The wreck of the Erika is being examined to find out if it is still leaking oil.

The 'catastrophe' that has gripped all of France for the past week has slipped back to page 12 in today's Le Parisien. Vast areas of northwestern France have seen flooding since Wednesday, but levels are now reported to be dropping.

However this is the generality, and it is exceptions in France that have to be watched. The rivers Maine and Loire are expected to reach their peak levels today and tomorrow. Le Mans, for example, was shown deep in water on last night's TV-news.

New Years Eve In Paris

To this, today's Le Parisien devotes its first eight pages. First the weather - overcast, damp, drizzly, with low temperatures of about 2 Celsius or 35 F expected overnight.

The Champs-Elysées area was closed to traffic at 13:00 and the area surrounding it will be neutralized at 18:00 today. From 20:00, an area from the Louvre to Porte Maillot, and from Saint-Honoré to the Pont Bir-Hakeim and the Boulevard de Grenelle, will be traffic-free until 06:00 tomorrow.

Contrary to my earlier reports about night buses operating in Paris from Châtelet, they will instead be operating from the Paris exits out to the suburbs, until 05:30. In addition to RER trains, the SNCF will be running its suburban trains from the Saint-Lazare, Gare du Nord and Montparnasse stations.

After the métro closes down at 01:15, the RER will continue to operate from main hubs, to the suburbs. There will be no cross-town traffic. The Etoile station will be completely closed all night to both the métro and RER. Most métro stations close to the Tour Eiffel and the Champs-Elysées will also be closed.

All public transport in the Paris area will be free from 17:00 today until noon on Saturday. 'Y2K Bug' note: all métros, RER and SNCF trains will halt from 23:55 until 00:15, when I assume they will resume rolling.

The only remaining question is how many Parisians and visitors to Paris will turn up to take part in the grand, but damp, party? Those with reservations should verify them before setting out.

Your guess is as good as mine. The answer will be in Monday's edition of Metropole Paris. Bonne Fête and Bonne Année!

Thursday's Report

Paris:- Thursday, 30. December 1999:- Flooding in many areas is adding insult to storm-damage agony throughout France today. The Seine in Paris is five metres above its normal level.

This has caused the suspension of some New Years Eve events, planned to take place near the river. River shipping is prohibited on account of reduced headroom under many of Paris' bridges. All New Years Eve events have been canceled in Melun and Versailles on account of storm damage.

Many establishments - mostly outside Paris - have also canceled New Year Eve celebrations - some on account of lack of electricity for cold storage units.

SNCF's national rail network is functioning nearly normally. Exceptions are still the routes Paris-Toulouse, Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Granville and Paris Basel, which are seriously hindered.

Autoroutes and the Routes Nationales are all open again and traffic is expected to be heavy this weekend. Motorists are warned that lesser roads may be still hindered by fallen trees. This morning, the A10 autoroute near Dourdan was reported to be restricted to one lane each way.

Caution is recommended because many road direction signs are missing. Snow and ice on roads are also expected, especially near the Alps.

Flooding is widespread in north and west France, affecting a dozen departments. Electricity is still unavailable to 1.5 million households throughout France, with 100,000 waiting for power in the Ile-de-France area.

The death toll from last weekend's storms has now risen to 80. The designation 'natural catastrophe' has been applied to 69 of France's administrative departments.

Hardware supplies are in acute shortage as householders try to patch up damaged homes. All professional roofers, carpenters and other building tradesmen are fully engaged with repairs.

Oil Spill Widens, Theatening Shellfish Industry

Oil washing up on French Atlantic coast beaches has extended further south, reaching the Ile d'Oléron and the north tip of the Ile de Ré - where important shellfish operations are based. The minister of the interior has released 40 million francs of emergency funds, while promising that the beaches will be cleaned 'before spring.'

Meanwhile, both professionals and volunteers are facing a severe shortage of shovels, buckets, slickers and gloves. An offer of a day's salary by TotalFina CEO Thierry Desmarest was dismissed by Greenpeace spokesmen as insulting to volunteers swamped with gooey oil sludge.

The wreck of the tanker Erika, lying 120 metres under the sea's surface, is believed to still contain up to 20,000 tons of heavy oil. Experts do not think they can pump this out before spring.

The Abyssub, the undersea explorer used for inspecting the wreck of the Titanic, is expected to begin searching the Erika for leaks today.

A Russian tanker broke in the Sea of Marmara up late Tuesday night in a manner very similar to the Erika, and its lost oil is threatening coastlines in the Istanbul area.

Wednesday's Report

Paris:- Wednesday, 29. December 1999:- UPDATE - This morning, radio France-Info is reporting that the death toll in France has risen to 70, with ten persons still listed as missing.

All rail traffic south of Tours is still at a standstill, mainly due to electricity cuts affecting rail operations. Passengers stranded at Bordeaux, Biarritz and Toulouse were initially given emergency shelter, and some were sent on their way in buses.

The main problem in many areas affected by both storms is lack of electricity. In many areas water is stocked in towers which are fed with the aid of electric-powered pumps - and these have no backup generators. Bottled water is being rationed in some areas. Calls for additional power generators have gone out, even to neighboring countries.

Firemen are warning householders to place portable power generators outside, because exhaust gases from them can cause carbon-monoxide poisoning - which has already occurred in some cases.

Last night it was announced that the army would be called out to aid civilians. The army has considerable engineering capabilities, and these are needed - especially for the oil spill cleanup.

At noon in Paris, the sky is clear, but temperatures have dropped to slightly below normal - to about 5 C.

During the storm, the Alps received a big load of new snow - and this will take a few days to become stable. Mountain professionals are warning skiers to stay within posted limits to avoid possible avalanches.

Tuesday's Report

Paris:- Tuesday, 28. December 1999:- Late Monday afternoon, a 2nd fierce storm hurled itself against western France to cause more death, destruction and disruption of all forms of transport.

The entire west coast of France, from the south coast of Brittany, down to the Pyrenees and over to the Mediterranean coast was hit by winds of greater force than the ones that cut a swath through north-central France and Paris early Sunday morning.

A dozen deaths were reported, bringing the toll in France to 52 and more than 80 in Europe. Trees, felled by the thousands, cut rail lines, roads and highways. Airports were closed. Electricityphoto: window barricade transmission lines were cut and millions of households are without power.

Winds clocked at 200 kph were recorded at coastal points, often accompanied by heavy rains - which changed to snow storms at higher altitudes where winds of over 200 kph blasted the Alps.

Snow also fell near the coast, along the path on Sunday's storm, making ground transport difficult or impossible.

My kitchen window's barricade on Monday night.

The Bordeaux area was hit worst, with the Gironde overflowing its banks for the first time in memory. All rail traffic south of Tours was stopped, stranding passengers in Bordeaux, Biarritz and Toulouse. The roof of the station at La Rochelle was blown off.

Most deaths were caused by falling trees. Some have been due to cars simply being thrown off roads by the winds.

While a vast cleanup began yesterday in northern France and transport companies fought to reestablish their timetables, last night's storm threw everything into disarray again.

Paris' airports Roissy-CDG and Orly are operating, but flight plans to destinations in France are irregular. Ground transport, both by rail and road is affected by many fallen trees and heavy snow in places.

Although Météo-France has been underestimating the violence of the winds, the prediction for the days ahead foresees calmer weather for the coming New Years' weekend.

Oil Spill Worsens

After tracking visible patches of oil last week, it is now believed that oil hitting 400 kms of western French beaches is leaking from the sunken tanker.

Last night's tempest hit the area most affected by the oil spill, overwhelming the already overwhelmed clean-up crowds of emergency workers, volunteers and despairing fishermen.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin will visit the site of the disaster today, following the visit of the environment minister, Dominique Voynet, on Sunday.

Read more in Sunday's report below:

Severe Storm Bats Paris

Oil Spill Hits French Beaches

Paris:- Sunday, 26. December 1999:- My kitchen window has not blown open since I propped up a chair against it to keep it closed during a windy cold spell several weeks ago. This morning it was open again.

The day after Christmas, a Sunday, and not a sound in the house. To turn on noisy and irritating radio France-Info or not?

When I did, it said catastrophe. No trains. Autoroutes blocked. Airports closed. People killed. Roofs blown off, construction cranes on the ground, thousands of trees ripped out of the ground.

Out in my street, minor debris on the sidewalk. Bits of tile from roofs, bits of twigs from trees, some broken glass, and a couple of pieces of zinc building metal. At the avenue, more of it; but all of the trees intact. No real indication of what has recently happened.

Up on Montmartre I see an awning torn to pieces at the Place du Tertre. Down towards métro Abbesses, a building scaffolding is down with a BMW buried under its wreckage.

I do not see a chimney of the Mairie of the 18th lying in the Place Jules Joffrin in front of it. I do not see the hundreds of trees uprooted in Paris. Some of this is shown on the evening's TV-news.

Watching this is interrupted by the server-lady Linda Thalman, phoning from the Cadillac Ranch in Essonne. She has had power outages, has holes in the roof and says one of her trees - ten years old - snapped in half. It's roots held, but its trunk didn't.

The Tempest According To Météo France

At this time of year, sharp gusts of wind up to 110 kph are not uncommon. These were forecast for northernphoto: wind damage France for Friday, with winds of force 8 or 9 expected off the coast; with 90 to 130 kph predicted for Christmas morning.

This wind, with waves up to ten metres high, accelerated the arrival on the coast of the oil from the shipwrecked tanker Erika.

What Météo France couldn't predict, was the freefall of the barometre as soon as the winds touched the Brittany and Normandy coasts. Instead of slowing down the wind picked up velocity.

The hurricane-like winds swept across France in six hours, confined to a narrow band, devastating everything in the way. The Black Forest east of Alsace was hit like a hammer. Bavaria and Austria, warned, were also heavily damaged.

Many were killed. The estimated death toll for Europe is more than 50, with eight in the Ile-de-France. Some had chimneys collapse on them and others were crushed in their cars by falling trees.

There were no fatalities in Paris. Three customs agents escaped by seconds being crushed in their car by a falling plane tree near Austerlitz.

Transport In a Shambles

According the radio France-Info this morning, the only rail traffic in operation was the northern TGVs and the Eurostar trains. All Paris area suburban rail services were suspended, and within the city métro line 13, Chatillon to Saint-Denis, was shut down. RER operations ceased almost entirely.

Both Paris airports at Roissy and Orly, after being shut entirely for four hours this morning, laterphoto: wind damage operated with only one runway, mainly to receive long-haul arrivals.

The western A13 autoroute from Paris to Normandy was closed, with more than 200 fallen trees on it. Many other roads, both in Paris and in the countryside, were blocked by downed power lines and fallen trees.

Under the scaffolding, a BMW.

Many travellers who were trying to return to Paris after Christmas were stranded around France by the SNCF's first total shutdown.

Thousands were stranded at alpine stations and 5000 were blocked at Lyon. In the afternoon, attempts to run trains from Rennes and Nantes to Paris were abandoned due to unreliable power supplies.

The SNCF arranged as much accommodation as it could find; even using its own sleeping wagons. Emergency lodgings were set up to handle the overflow.

This evening, a third of Paris' métro lines were not operating. The RER lines B, C, D and Méteor were also out of action.

Electricity Cuts, Floods and Chaos

Millions of homes in the path of the tempest had their electricity cut by collapsed transmission towers and lines downed by the gusts or falling trees. Tonight, more than a million households are still without power. In various areas, flooding occurred, to add to the chaos.

In a snap estimate, the city of Paris said half the trees in the Bois de Boulogne had been damaged. At the Château de Versailles, 4,000 trees were thought to have been uprooted - and the château was closed today.

Disneyland-Paris was closed today on account of damage caused by the storm. Visitors lived two hours in terror in the park's chalets and hotels as trees fell like matchsticks around them.

The Paris brigade of sapeurs-pompiers were called out 4800 times. Many tall constructionphoto: champs de ferris cranes collapsed. Residents near those that remained standing feared that they wouldn't withstand the gusts.

Although not as strong, further strong winds are expected. Many building bits and pieces of Paris still in place have been weakened, so there is a constant danger of more coming down.

This warning was not carried by radio France-Info at noon today. Visitors and residents alike were seen touring the city without realizing the possible danger.

The evening's TV-news showed impressive scenes of destruction. A construction crane tore a neighboring apartment building apart when it collapsed, and residents feared other nearby cranes.

Paris' big 60-metre high wheel at Concorde withstood the wind as did the other 21 smaller ferris wheels on the Champs-Elysées.

The Other Chaos

The tanker Erika sank on Sunday, 12. December. Since this time a small fleet from all over Europe and a mid-sized army of tanker-spill experts have been working non-stop to prevent the spill from touching the coast of France.

Despite all efforts of so many and thanks to the storm winds, the pollution began to hit the beaches late on Friday - days earlier than feared.

With the storm, the black sludge not only hit the beaches, but was also splattered over houses near them.

After weeks of attempts to pump the oil out of the sea, after weeks of preparing barriers to hold it at bay, after weeks of calculating when and where it would touch the coast, the storm upset everything. For a long time, the oil was concentrated in a few patches. 'Concentrated' has a double meaning, because it was too thick to be pumped from the sea with available equipment.

Equipment that is able to do it is scarce. By the time it arrived on the scene, the winds and the high seas had made the trip unnecessary.

Then the chance of wind did the rest. An army of professionals, fishermen, and volunteers have been waiting for the rogue oil to arrive - from Finistère in Brittany, all the way down to the oyster beds at the Sables-d'Olonne and the Ile d'Oléron in Charente-Maritime.

Until a few days ago, this latter area seemed to be the likely target. The big wind instead blew the sludge northwest, to land it on a 400-kilometre section of the coast, beginning in the area of Quimper and ranging down to bay of Bourgneuf, just west of Nantes.

Since the shipwreck of the Erika, 10,000 birds have been recovered and de-oiled. Interviewed on radio France-Info, a fisherman noted that the vast effort to save birds was laudable - so long as a similar effort was made to save the livelihood of thousands of fishermen.

At Le Crosic, west of Nantes, volunteers who turned up to clean the beaches had to bring their own equipment. This proved insufficient and they were sent home.

One was reported to have said that 'France is in the stone-age of marine defense,' and since the catastrophic oil-spill of the Amoco-Cadiz in 1978, 'nothing has been learned.'

TV-news showed volunteer beach cleaners with shovels, trying to pick up huge gobs of gooey oil. Buckets filled with it, seemed to have as much on their outsides as inside. The stuff is so thick it can't be poured out of the buckets.

As far as the birds go, of those recovered only about 30 percent will be saved. There isn't enough manpower to de-oil them by hand.

A good part of the area affected gains its livelihood from fishing, oysters, other shellfish andphoto: sign: bieres, moules, paellas from tourism. The head of TotalFina, owner of the oil, was on TV last week, to say that indemnities would be paid quickly.

With the Amoco-Cadiz affair, it took nearly two decades of court action, to get the oil company to assume responsibility.

No more moules, no more paella?

Another worry is the oil remaining in the sunken tanker, which broke in two. In previous cases where oil was pumped out of wreck on the bottom of the sea, the cost was astronomical and took years.

Since the big oil-spillages of 20 years ago, oil companies now contribute to an industry insurance fund, which is supposed to pay off fairly quickly for pollution damage. In this case, the bill could be billions of francs.

But while the oil pollution is here and now, fishermen in the affected area will not be sending much in the way of fresh seafood to the markets in Paris.

French Web Life This Week Was Asleep

However, if you feel deprived of this irregular feature, many of the URLs are normally supplied by 'Internet Actu.' Give it a hit.

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