A tribute to Copenhagen 2009 - Christmas 1999 - Hurricane upon Les Tertres

Once upon a time, Les Tertres were surrounded by trees. They had been planted by the former owners. All of them were conifers, very trendy at the time because their growth is very fast. They actually are completely unsuitable in Brittany because they don't fare very well in storms. Brittany is often swept by winds exceeding 80 miles per hour, summer and winter alike.

In 1999, we were at Les Tertres at Christmas as usual. We had friends over. Strong winds had been blowing and temperatures fell.

On December 25th, around 9 p.m., it was so stormy outside that we decided to go take a walk on the quay in Val André. We went there allright but all we did was to watch huge waves crashing on the quay. The sea was raging.

So we went back home, feeling really weird. We spent a couple of hours talking about storms, of course and then we went to bed.

In Brittany, you'll find a barometer in almost every house. It's very useful when you're planning a boating trip or whatever anyway! We checked ours before going to bed. It was falling allright but what could you expect with such a stormy weather.

Around 4 a.m., we awoke to a sudden blood-curling shriek followed by some kind of explosion that shook the house from bottom to the top. The cats scurried away from our bed and went instantly into hiding, one under the bed and the other one in a cupboard.

Then silence, long enough for me to keep cool and check the outside temperature. It was quite wintery when we went to bed: 40°F (5°C). I just couldn't believe the number I was reading and I remember thinking: 'This is IT'. The outside thermometer displayed 77°F (26°C). So I ran to the barometer a few feet away from our bedroom. Well, it couldn't fall any lower!

And then, everybody came running downstairs (the guests' rooms are upstairs. Ours is on the first floor.)
'Any idea of what's going on out there?'
'Nope and nobody is going outside to check.'

There were several young adults with us who were extremely excited about the whole thing. But when it started again, the shrieking and the blows and punches against the southwest side of the house, everybody fell quiet. Someone lit a candle (the electricity was out already) and we huddled together on the sofa.

I remember watching the shutters swelling, almost to the point of being pulled out from the house. 'Is this really happening? In Brittany?'

We all knew that once the shutters would be torn away, the windows wouldn't resist very long either. We talked about getting down into the basement except that we didn't know whether the windows were still holding down there... (afterwards, we discovered that some of them hadn't).

We stood there, frozen with, well, with fright. The whatever was going on outside kept on going for more than two hours... A lifetime...

When the monster gave signs of moving away, one of us went to the bathroom (on the northern side of the house) and opened carefully one shutter. Lo and behold. He came back and said: 'Well, Marie (one of our friends), I don't think you'll be able to leave today. There are fallen trees all over the place and I'm pretty sure some of them are jamming the gate.'

Around 6 a.m., we got our flashlights and out we went! The house was allright so was the roof (thanx to the way the former owner had built the house) but outside, there were twisted trees, broken trees, uprooted trees, trees that looked like they had been thrown away like javelins... It was a terrible sight.

But we were alive. The house has weathered the hurricane. Of course we had lost more than 80 trees, all of them over 50 years old. I remember I cried.

We walked back to the house: no phone, no electricity. The lines had been buried when the house was built. Good idea except that the roots had uprooted the whole system! Well, anyway, all the lines were down.

Then we heard people calling. Our friends had come over. They knew we had to be 'rescued' somehow. Some had walked over since the roads were covered with fallen trees. One of them had driven his tractor through the fields, hoping to help towing the trees away. Well, he did open a breach in the fence. Yes, we had a fence (a very short one but long enough to prevent us from getting out).

It felt so good. We all went back to the house and while Marie was packing, now she could drive through the hole in the fence, we talked about the night and tried to assess damages. Most of the roads were closed. A few houses had lost their roofs. There were lots of damages in the harbors, of course. But there had been no fishing that night, being so close to Christmas. Nobody had been killed (at least in our area) since it had happened in the middle of the night.

We were told that the hurricane had hit France from our coast on a 150 kms (90 miles) width and was still at it at an average speed of 200 kms/hr (125 miles/hr). It hit Les Tertres while going at 232 kms/hr (144 miles/hr). We know because there is a meteorological station very close to our place.

Then it badly hit Paris and part of France then went on to Germany. But at the time, we didn't know anything about it.

Pretty soon, our friend and 'gardener' came with his team and started getting rid of what was packed in our way. It took days and days. And there was no other way than to burn everything right there.
Night and day... Day and night...
Trees were burnt everywhere... I still remember the smell lingering for at least two years later. There is nothing else you can do with that kind of conifers.

Hurricanes were quite unknown in our area but ever since 1999, France has been severely hit several times, again and again. People have started to talk about these events as proof of global warming effects. All I know is that our storms in Brittany are getting more and more violent.

What I want to remember tho from such an experience is the fact that there was a great fit of solidarity and generosity. At least in our area. While Yves was working on our trees, Popeye went to help Bernard on his farm. Henri and Jean, even tho they were a lot older than most of us, helped around. People came from all over France to rebuild the electricity and phone lines. And so on and so on! It was a great lesson of life.

Was this hurricane (named Lothar by the way) a direct consequence of global warming?  I still don't know. But if it was caused by global warming, we do have a lot of worries on our hands. I know I've become much more concerned about environmental issues ever since. We've been trying to change things at Les Tertres which is our personal environment but what we did may have an influence on global environmental issues. Remember the importance of fluttering butterflies on the other side of the world (it's a nice story anyway).

Two days after the hurricane, we saw this incredible rainbow I want to share with you maybe as a token of hope.

(to be continued)

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Wow! It must have been surreal to experience that--large storms always are rather that way, I find.