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France - Natural disaster to be declared after storms rip through crops

France will declare a state of natural disaster after rain and hail storms lashed a swathe of the south-east on Saturday, devastating crops.

The flash storms, which brought hailstones as big as pingpong balls to some areas, killed two people in France and Switzerland, and injured at least 10 others.

The worst-hit area, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, is at the heart of France’s food production and known as the “orchard of France”.

Didier Guillaume, the agriculture minister, said the government would organise a “general mobilisation” and introduce emergency measures to deal with what he described as a catastrophe for farmers.

“Everything will be done to help. The state of natural disaster will be declared,” Guillaume told French television. “The goal is that no farmers will have to shut down business.”

Nine French departments were put on alert at the weekend after warnings of violent storms, hail and winds. When the storms struck, they were brief but catastrophic, particularly in the Drôme and Isère.

“It lasted 10 minutes, but 10 minutes of a hail storm … there’s a lot of damage in a 10km zone in the Drôme,” the minister added.

Guillaume said many farmers had lost 80-100% of their crops. He added that the state of disaster would be declared when the extent of the devastation was known in “a day or two”.

Grégory Chardon, a fruit grower from La Roche-de-Glun, at the centre of the storm, said most of his apricots, peaches and cherries had been destroyed.

Chardon, president of the local farmer’s union, said he had never before witnessed weather like it. “The damage is enormous in a wide area – cereals, greenhouses, vegetable crops as well as vines have been hit,” he said.

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