France Begins to Count the Cost As Floods Ease

March 27, 2001

As the latest in a series of floods, which have ravaged France this winter, showed some signs of receding, insurers began counting the potential losses. Last October’s floods in Europe cost insurers an estimated $1.2 billion with about a quarter of those losses in France. The current flooding affects a much broader area, and preliminary damage estimates fall in the $200 to $400 million range.

The Saône and the Rhone in Eastern France were reported to be receding after having reached flood levels in excess of 15 feet over normal in some areas. In Paris and its suburbs, notably the Val d’Oise and Yvelines the Seine and the Oise remained at flood levels near 17 feet over normal, but were beginning to retreat. Many homes and businesses all along the Seine from just outside Paris to Le Havre are still submerged in up to 4 feet of water, and all river traffic has been halted.

Some towns in Brittany and Normandy, notably Redon, Granville, Elbeuf, Châteaubourg and Rouen have been particularly hard hit. Over 26,000 homes have had no water or electricity for almost a week.

Authorities have blamed the floods on particularly heavy rains in March, up to 3 times the normal amount in some regions, which fell on ground already saturated from previous storms. While its true that there hasn’t been a week since the end of September when it hasn’t rained, the damages are increased by two other factors.

Over the last 10 years construction around Paris and many cities in Normandy has proliferated. A large portion of these homes and commercial sites have been built on floodplains. They inevitably suffer damages when the water rises. In Normandy and Brittany vast tracts of “bocage” (woodlands and open fields) have been lost to development, causing the water to run off into local rivers and streams at a greater rate, rather than be absorbed. Many French insurers are taking a closer look at the nature of the risks involved in localities which are prone to flooding.

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