...Continued from page 1

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.

Go to page : 1 - 2
In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini