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French councillors go on trial over deadly 2010 storm

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-09-15

Four years after a lethal storm caused 29 deaths in one town on the French Atlantic coast, a manslaughter trial opens Monday against town councillors and developers who are accused of allowing homes to be built in a high flood risk area.

Cyclone Xynthia struck the French coast in late February 2010.

It was most devastating at La Faute-sur-Mer, where a storm surge swept over a sea wall and flooded hundreds of homes, some with nearly three metres of water.

Most of the victims were pensioners who had moved to the coast to see out their retirement.

Prosecutors say that the homes had been built in a “red zone” where all construction should have been banned because of the risk of flooding.

René Marratier, town mayor from 1989 to 2014, is accused of ignoring warnings from the regional authorities by allowing construction in the low-lying area.

Town councillor Françoise Babin, responsible for development, her estate agent son Philippe, and Patrick Maslin, who owned the building company that made the homes, also face manslaughter charges.

In addition to the manslaughter charges, the four are also accused of wilfully ignoring security guidelines and putting lives at risk.

Alain Jacobsoone, who was a senior member of the regional council and responsible for the coastline, is accused of failing to alert Mayor Marratier of the danger of the coming storm.

They each face up to five years in prison and fines of 75,000 euros. Two of Maslin’s companies, which were involved in the construction of the homes, face fines of up to 375,000 euros each.

Cyclone Xynthia claimed a total of 47 lives when it struck on February 28, 2010.

Waves of up to 7.5 metres high smashed into the coast at high tide, breaching 75km of sea wall and causing extensive damage to 120km of coastline.

Nearly 5,000 homes in France were flooded. The total cost of the storm was estimated at 1.5 billion euros.

The trial is due to continue until December.

Date created : 2014-09-15

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