Amidst the prevailing plethora of doomy news our earthquake may have slipped past your attention. Markus and I were working upstairs one morning two weeks ago when we suddenly felt and heard a rumbling boom, repeated after a few seconds. This was the outer ripplings of a 5.6 magnitude earthquake which hit the little village of le Teil, not far from Montélimar on the Rhône, causing extensive damage. Many families are still not allowed to enter their houses, the main road is closed for fear that buildings may collapse and the 19th C parish church will probably have to be demolished. It now looks possible that the historic Lafarge quarry which is very close by may be at the origin of the quake and investigations are ongoing, meanwhile the nearby nuclear power stations are both said to be unaffected – phew, that’s a relief!
That was a first for me and a very weird sensation it was. You do take the ground beneath your feet to be a stable point of reference and it was odd to feel it move.
Then last week the weather conspired to make us all put our everyday assumptions into question again. Snow was forecast last Thursday evening and the concert we were planning to attend was cancelled as a precaution. So we went round to dinner with Brice and Lisa and were admiring the wintry scene when the power went out. We were not altogether surprised because almost a foot of very heavy wet snow had fallen and accumulated on the wires. We heard the ominous cracking of branches and before we left we had to get the chainsaw out to clear their Judas tree which had fallen over the road.
But at that point we did not yet realise the ampleur du désastre. The following days proved to be dramatic. 330,000 homes had lost power, internet, mobile phone and telephone connections. Ours were restored after 72 hours but even now, one week later, there are around 500 homes in the Ardèche which are still cut off. The electricity company, the local authorities and individual farmers are working flat out but the damage has been considerable.
Thousands of trees, many still in leaf, were brought down by the weight of the snow, frequently taking the power lines and poles with them. Whole hillsides have been denuded by uprooted trees falling onto others and all the roads were blocked, sometimes for days, hampering access to downed pylons and high tension cables.
In our small way we are sorry that our little lime tree has split in two and the peach tree is ruined.
Now we can all venture out and the baker is back in business, everyone is swapping stories. We were told by someone who knows about these things that the weight of snow on the cables was 8kg per metre. It also turns out that we were about to run out of water as all three reservoirs which stock the supply to the village, piped up from the Rhône, were running dry for lack of electric pumps. The elders mutter sagely that this will teach people not to rely solely on electricity for everything and tales are told of houses where the inhabitants were held prisoner by their electric shutters, garage doors and so on.
We kept snug with out wood burners, but at this time of year the days are short and as darkness fell we realised that you can only do so much in a big house by candle light. It’s been interesting to note what struck everybody most about our enforced return to life as it was a century ago.
I decided to re read Middlemarch by torchlight and got about half way through. I’m now finding it harder to keep the steady concentration that I had when there was no chance of any other distraction and I’m reading in much smaller chunks of time. Markus found it difficult being unable to contact people who might have been anxious about us to let them know that we were fine. One friend said that she really missed the radio and not being able to find out how widespread the chaos was. Everyone has been anxious about the contents of their freezers. This same friend told us that all the family came round and they played music and sang for three days and simply ate the contents.
Eat , drink and be merry indeed, because who knows what’s coming next!