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 t destinations in France are irregular. Ground transport, both by rail and road is affected by many fallen trees and heavy snow in places.


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