Heavy rains flood homes and crops in northern France

By Pascal Rossignol and Clotaire Achi

SAINT-ETIENNE-AU-MONT, France (Reuters) -Days of heavy rains in northern France have caused local rivers to overflow and flood houses and fields, prompting the evacuation of residents, with some having to be airlifted to safety.

More than 100 towns are on red alert, and some 200 schools in the region have been shut. Rescue workers have also had to evacuate cattle.

“It’s catastrophic,” said 32-year old farmer Gaetan Guche, whose poultry farm has been flooded, with up to 60 centimetres of water at times over the past five days.

Some chickens have been killed by the water, and he is worried about the others, fearing the spread of disease amid the humidity.

“We have to wait for the water to go down before we can see the whole damage. But I’ve had losses in chickens, financial losses in terms of seeds and equipment, and so today, it’s really hard.”

Nearby, strawberry farmer Jean-Loup Mionnet, whose fields are partly submerged in water, said next spring’s harvest was compromised, fearing he will have few to no strawberries.

“We’ve never seen something like that,” said campsite owner Jean-Marc Joyez in the village of Enquin-sur-Baillons, where many houses are flooded and roads submerged.

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said dozens of towns would be considered in a situation of natural disaster, which makes it easier for those whose homes or businesses were flooded to benefit from insurance coverage.

(Reporting by Pascal Rossignol and Clotaire Achi; Writing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams and Jan Harvey)