France counts cost after strong earthquake hits

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Residents of a region in western France on Saturday counted the cost after being stunned by a rare earthquake that has left dozens of homes damaged.

Cracks appeared in several homes in the Charente-Maritime department just north of the major city of Bordeaux while churches were damaged and inhabitants left in urgent need of resettlement.

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There were no fatalities, even though the earthquake was felt as far as Rennes in Brittany in the north and two aftershocks were recorded on Saturday morning.

In the town of La Laigne, many homes were left cracked with stones and tiles on the ground and chimneys looking as they could tumble at any moment.

The fire service declared dozens of houses uninhabitable.

In Laigne, “135 buildings were affected by the earthquake overall” and “170 people need to be relocated”, said local fire service chief Didier Marcaillou.

“Most of the houses in the center of the town have been affected to varying degrees. The church is completely unusable. The school will have to be closed as a precaution,” added prefect Nicolas Basselier, the top government-appointed regional official in Charente-Maritime.

The quake was also felt in other areas, including the nearby department of Deux-Sevres where two people were lightly wounded, the emergency services said.

“It is an unusual earthquake on our territory, so I would like to express all my solidarity with the populations who may have been worried,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on a visit to northern France.

“We will obviously ensure that everyone has access to rehousing,” she added.

The national network for seismic surveillance RENASS recorded the quake at 5.3 while the French Central Seismological Bureau (BCSF) put it at 5.8.

Seismologists said the quake was the most significant in the region since 1972.

Earthquakes at or above five magnitude are rare in France, with the last such event taking place in November 2019 in the remote southern Drome and Ardeche departments.

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