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France counts cost after rare earthquake hits west

LA LAIGNE: Residents of a region in western France on Saturday counted the cost after being stunned by a rare earthquake that has left dozens of homes damaged.

Cracks appeared in several homes in the Charente-Maritime department just north of the major city of Bordeaux, while churches were damaged and inhabitants left in urgent need of resettlement.

There were no fatalities, even though the earthquake was felt as far as Rennes in Brittany in the north and two aftershocks were recorded on Saturday morning.

In the town of La Laigne, many homes were left cracked with stones and tiles on the ground and chimneys looking as though they could tumble at any moment.

The fire service declared dozens of houses uninhabitable.

In La Laigne, “135 buildings were affected by the earthquake overall” and “170 people need to be relocated”, said local fire service chief Didier Marcaillou.

“Most of the houses in the centre of the town have been affected to varying degrees. The church is completely unusable.

The school will have to be closed as a precaution,” added prefect Nicolas Basselier, the top government-appointed regional official in Charente-Maritime.

A baker in La Laigne for 33 years, Cecile Apperce was at her counter on Friday when the earthquake struck. “I thought it was a plane crash, I went outside, everyone was screaming.”

“The crockery, the cups, the wine, everything crashed down,” said Patricia Chardonne, who was in her 200-year-old house at the time.

Her husband Pascal added: “All the walls have shifted. We have to relocate but don’t know where to go.”

A queue of 50 people had already formed outside the town hall seeking help.
Deputy mayor Bruno Asperti said: “Stone and two-storey houses were the worst affected. One-storey and recently-built houses less so.”

– ‘Unusual earthquake’ –

The quake was also felt in other areas, including the nearby department of Deux-Sevres where two people were lightly wounded, the emergency services said.

“It is an unusual earthquake on our territory, so I would like to express all my solidarity with the populations who may have been worried,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on a visit to northern France.

“We will obviously ensure that everyone has access to rehousing,” she added.

The national network for seismic surveillance RENASS recorded the quake at 5.3, while the French Central Seismological Bureau (BCSF) put it at 5.8.

Seismologists said the quake was the most significant in the region since 1972.

Earthquakes at or above five magnitude are unusual in France, with the last such event taking place in November 2019 in the remote southern Drome and Ardeche departments.


M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.