France to declare natural disaster after storms rip through crops | World news

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.”

Apricots hit by hailstorms

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. Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

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”.

A 51-year-old German tourist was killed on Saturday afternoon after a tree crushed her camping car at a holiday site at Tanninges in the Haute-Savoie.

Giant hailstones smash car windownscreen in France – video

Storms also struck western Switzerland with winds reaching up to 110km/h, according to the national forecaster MeteoSwiss.

A woman drowned in Lake Geneva when her boat sank, police said. A man in the same boat was able to swim to another vessel and fired off two flares, but by the time rescuers arrived they could not find the woman. Her body was later recovered by divers.

The storm also damaged 465 boats taking part in an annual regatta on the lake.

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.

A worker clears up leaves

The clean-up operation is under way after severe storms in southeastern France. Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

The hailstones smashed car windscreens and also damaged homes, schools and public buildings. Several trees fell on train lines and fire and emergency services struggled to deal with smashed roofs. More than 2,000 homes were without electricity on Sunday.

Marie-Hélène Thoravaldes, mayor of Romans-sur-Isère , which was also badly hit, said: “It was apocalyptic.”

FranceInfo published photographs showing uprooted trees, floods and storm destruction.

Videos on social networks showed the scale of the disaster. The local prefect tweeted photographs of a school with its windows smashed and of the agriculture minister meeting firefighters called in to deal with the flooding and damage.

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