The weather is always on my mind. I suffer in the summer, and this winter has been uncommonly frigid on the East Coast, causing me all kinds of cold-weather reactions. I will be glad to see the winter end, so that I can begin complaining about the summer.
Europe too has had some fierce weather conditions. But, of course, you have read about it in your local papers. The French speak of a "tempête", or "tempest", which in this case refers to a windstorm, not just rain or snow. Hence, it is comparable to what we call a "hurricane", except that we get them with the regularity and predictability of a clockwork, every year.
Windstorms of this magnitude have not been seen in southwestern France since 1999, and many cities witnessed record wind velocities, well over 100 mph. Over a million people were without electricity, though that number seems to be diminishing as I write this. The "red alert" has been lifted to be replaced by the "orange warning".
This is the latest report from Le Figaro, in greatly condensed form:
Eight deaths in all, including 4 people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning because of personal generators.
On Sunday 800,000 homes were still without electricity. At the height of the storm 1.7 million homes were so affected. Thousands are still deprived of drinking water, and 300,000 are without telephone service. France Telecom hopes to restore service by the end of next week. The president of French National Railways (SNCF) Guillaume Pépy spoke on Sunday of "images of a war" after a quick visit to les Landes. He said that "several days" were needed to restore service on lines to and from Bordeaux.
Nicolas Sarkozy visited the scene on Sunday and announced that he would enlist the aid of the army to bring help to victims of the storm. He insisted that lessons had been learned in 1999, and that this time, there was a "quicker response, fewer victims, and more effective measures."
Minister of Agriculture Michel Barnier is proposing a "global plan" to help the forests and to use timber efficiently as a source of fuel. The plan allows for the replanting of felled trees, a stockpile of timber and a restoration of national forest lands.
The storm destroyed 60% of the forest in the south of the Gironde and les Landes. Barnier said that the government will release "funds necessary for a new anti-storm plan" as they did in 1999.
A brief from Le Figaro announces that 700 soldiers are about to join the 300 others who participated in rescue operations in the southwest of France.
There is a page of not-very-good amateur videos in Le Figaro. The interesting thing is the comments from readers. They feel that the storms are no big deal, that they happen all the time, and one person calls it "cheap sensationalism". Another says that the videos are worthless, and still another complains that the videos don't begin to show the true strength of the storms (this I believe - how can you show the true strength of a storm without getting killed?).
Still, I like talking about the weather. It is relaxing and frivolous. And storms are beautiful sights from a distance, like so many things in life. But for those who suffer losses, for the flora and fauna, for the landscape, and sometimes for works of art (I remember the flood in Florence in 1966) it is Nature's equivalent of a war.