New weather alerts in four French départements after record-breaking storms

Four départements in the south of France are on orange weather alert for storms, a day after record rainfall led to localised flooding.

New weather alerts in four French départements after record-breaking storms
Record rainfall was recorded in parts of the Gard, southern France, on Tuesday, September 14th, 2021, as storms battered the area. Photo: Sylvain Thomas / AFP

Residents in the badly affected Gard département are braced for more bad weather on Wednesday, with the department remaining on orange alert for storms, heavy rain and flooding, less than 24 hours after forecasters briefly placed it on the highest red alert.

As well as Gard, residents in Hérault, Drôme, and Ardèche, are warned to be aware of heavy storms that could see up to 120mm of rainfall in some areas in a short period of time. Forecasters said the storms could also bring hail and strong winds.

Early on Wednesday, overnight weather alerts in four other département in the south of the country – Allier, Aveyron, Cantal, and Puy-de-Dôme – were taken down, but experts at Météo France did not rule out the possibility of extending orange storm alerts, its second highest warning level, to neighbouring areas throughout the day.

Two-and-a-half months of rain fell in just a few hours in the Gard on Tuesday, September 14th, flooding streets and homes in more than 60 communes. The village of Saint-Dionizy  recorded 244mm of rain in just three hours, according to Météo France – well beyond the previous record, of 216.4 mm in Saint-Martial on September 19, 2020. 

“Nothing foreshadowed an event of such magnitude,” Météo-France’s Marc Pontaud said on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has visited the area, warned: “We are particularly vigilant in the Hérault and the Gard, where we fear other episodes of this type in the hours and days to come.”

He also promised that the formal process towards declaring a ‘catastrophe naturelle’ to release vital help for affected communes would begin in the next few days.

Meanwhile, concern is mounting for one person, who has not been found after falling into the river Rhôny in the town of Aimargues, according to the Gard prefecture, while two others who had been reported missing from the homes in Uchaud and Aigues-Vives have been found.

“The person was hanging on to debris and the rescuers heard him, then the contact was broken”, a spokesperson for local firefighters told AFP early on Wednesday.

One other person was slightly injured in a lightning strike, but no other victims have been reported.

Schools in the Gard remained closed on Wednesday, while rail travel through the department is expected to be disrupted until the weekend. The A9 motorway reopened yesterday evening, after being closed for several hours due to flooding. About 30 trapped motorists had to be rescued by helicopter as the waters rose.

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KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.