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Prime minister attends mass for victims of storm Xynthia

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-03-07

French Prime Minister François Fillon joined mourners at a mass in the cathedral of Luçon on Thursday and gave a brief speech in honour of the 53 people killed by last week’s storm Xynthia, 29 of whom died in the hard-hit Vendée region.

Hundreds of people from France’s Vendée region gathered Thursday afternoon at a mass in Luçon to mourn the victims of storm Xynthia. Among those present at the cathedral was French Prime Minister François Fillon, who gave a brief speech in homage to those killed before a procession of volunteers, police and firemen.

Xynthia, a powerful storm carrying hurricane-force winds, rampaged across Europe earlier this week, hitting hardest in the Vendée region, where more than half of the total deaths in France occurred. Relief and reconstruction efforts have been launched in the largely flooded area, and the official death toll was put at 53 Thursday, with seven people injured. 

‘Lessons to be learned’

In addition to those casualties, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said 72 others had been hurt, though less seriously. In an interview with a French radio station on Thursday, Hortefeux added that after “a time of mobilization and solidarity”, there would be “lessons to be learned” from the catastrophe, and how it was handled.

Asked about the possibility of legal action being taken against certain mayors for granting too many building permits in zones known to be at risk for flooding, Hortefeux answered that President Nicolas Sarkozy had ordered “an inspection and analysis mission” to “bring to light” all irregularities.

Hortefeux added that it was necessary to "accelerate prevention plans for natural risks and to create a plan to consolidate and improve dykes.”

Rescue crews are still wading through filthy floodwaters in once pretty coastal towns, scouring ruins for missing householders.

Around 50,000 homes remain without power and 52,000 hectares of farmland is flooded with salt water in what Sarkozy called "a national catastrophe, a human tragedy with a dreadful toll."

While the human toll of the storm has been high, French officials have not officially estimated the cost of damages. However, Bernard Spitz, the president of the French Federation of Insurers (FFSA), told the AFP news service that initial damage estimates could be getting on for a billion euros. 

Date created : 2010-03-04

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