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French Property

Mayor Sentenced Over Storm 'Xyantia' Deaths

Wednesday 07 January 2015

Prison sentences have been handed down to the mayor and deputy mayor of La Faute-sur-Mer in the Vendée following the deaths of 29 inhabitants in a cyclone in 2010.

The storms which battered the Atlantic coast on the night of 27th and 28th February 2010, resulted in the deaths of at least 51 people in France.

Such was the scale of the damage caused by tempête Xynthia that the French government declared a national emergency.

The worst affected area was the village of La-Faute-Sur-Mer, a seaside resort in the Vendée, when the coastal defences broke, with the loss of life 29 lives, mainly elderly or young children.

Inevitably, with so much personal tragedy and physical devastation, legal proceedings followed, the most serious of which has been a criminal action against local politicians of La-Faute-Sur-Mer.

In the dock were the mayor René Marratier and his friend and assistant Françoise Babin, who was chairman of the local planning committee, who also happened to be a local property developer, and owner of some of the land on which the homes had been built.

Last month the criminal court in Sables-d’Olonne finally gave their judgement, handing down sentences of 4 years for the mayor and 2 years for his deputy.

In their judgement the court reproached the politicians for having granted planning permission for homes in an area that was known to be at a high risk of flooding.

Initially classified as an area zoned 'non-constructible', following pressure from the mayor, in 2004 the area was zoned for development, subject to particular constraints imposed by the prefecture. The conditions were ignored by those in charge of delivering the planning consents.

Although the court criticised the prefecture for allowing the area to be zoned for construction, it concluded that final responsibility resided with the local politicians.

The court was particularly critical of the fact that all of the homes concerned were bungalow style, without any upper storey that might have afforded some protection to occupants. Many of the homes had been flooded by over 2 metres of water.

They were also critical of the lack of any proper study of the level of risk or of any flood planning emergency arrangements.

The area itself was historically used for pasturing cattle, but between 1989 and 2010, over 2,000 homes were constructed on the land.

The scale of the development was very much in line with the philosophy of the mayor, who is alleged to have stated on numerous occasions that "Le rôle d’un maire, c’est de développer sa commune". René Marratier, the mayor, was also known locally as 'le roi René', such was his inflated sense of self-importance.

According to the court, over the 25 years, the mayor had consistently opposed initiatives proposed by the local prefecture to give greater protection to the parish from flooding.

The son of the deputy mayor, who was also a local estate agent, and who had sold many of the homes, was also sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The court stated that "The risk was known, described, anticipated, and relayed to policy makers. The defendants intentionally obscured the risk not to impede a manna from heaven. "

All of those sentenced have stated that they will appeal the decision. In the meantime, the politicians both remain in office.

Around 1500 homes in the affected areas have since been demolished, on the orders of the French Government.

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