“Our whole life is in boxes”, one year after the earthquake in Charente-Maritime

Un first warning at the beginning of the afternoon, another a few seconds before the “explosion” at 6:38 p.m., preceding that of 4:27 a.m. The residents of the communes of La Laigne, Cramchaban, Sainte-Gemme and La Grève- sur-Mignon are not about to forget these brief moments when the earth shook, not counting the approximately 600 aftershocks until the month of October, due to the rupture of an unknown fault five kilometers under their feet.

No victims, but around 5,000 buildings damaged around this sector, located between Charente-Maritime, Vendée and Deux-Sèvres, including 148 houses declared uninhabitable and as many families affected. A year later, La Laigne, the village most affected, seems like a huge construction site in progress. Almost everywhere the walls are supported by props, the roofs covered in part or in full. The scars are still visible a few kilometers away, in Cramchaban, where, there too, families with no other alternative housing were accommodated in mobile homes. Residents have also chosen to stay close to their home, in a caravan or mobile home placed in their garden.

“At least we are at home,” emphasize Élodie Raggi and Alban Licheron. This couple in their thirties, parents of two children aged 6 and 2, settled in 2014 in the former Cramchaban dairy, which overlooks the Aunis plain, classified black (uninhabitable) after the earthquake. Nine years of renovation work reduced to nothing in a matter of seconds. “Our whole life is in boxes. We chose to stay to watch over the house, which is isolated, and to be close to our belongings. We also said to ourselves that we could monitor the work. We couldn’t imagine what happened next. »


The old Cramchaban dairy is one of the houses most damaged by the earthquake.

Frédéric Zabalza/SO

Proximity has a cost, that of the mobile home purchased at their expense (25,000 euros including the connection). The family went from 1,500 to 36 square meters. Nothing compared to “haggling” with the insurance adjuster, then with the bank. “No human side, just money for money’s sake,” summarizes Élodie. The insurance estimates the repair at 495,000 euros, of which 150,000 are the responsibility of the owners. Too much for them. So, they decided to use the money to buy another house, in Benet (Vendée). “We give ourselves four or five years to see what we do with the house, to give ourselves time to do the work ourselves. »


Élodie and Alban in the 36 m² mobile home purchased at their own expense.

Frédéric Zabalza/SO

A wish for Christmas

A little away from the town of Cramchaban, Roland Druhet also lives in a mobile home, made available by the owners of his accommodation, in a hangar located just opposite. Rather, he only sleeps there. At 80, it is impossible to leave what is “like a family home” for him.

“My mother was born 200 meters from there, I have been coming there since I was little,” smiles the retiree, confiding that he was “one of the first clients” to consult the psychological unit. Attachment to the place and “well-behaved young neighbors” made him stay despite the trauma. Even if the house is classified black, he returns every day, at his own risk. However, two weeks ago, work began. They will be long, of course, but there is hope. “My dream is to spend Christmas and New Years there. »

Roland Druhet in front of the house where he lives, where the work has finally started.


Roland Druhet in front of the house where he lives, where the work has finally started.

Frédéric Zabalza/SO

A few streets away, at Carole Faucher’s, the masons will also go into action, starting next Tuesday. Three weeks of preparation before demolishing a section of the old rubble wall of his house and rebuilding it more solidly, “with two rows of concrete blocks”. For a year, the retiree, who still worries at every unidentified noise, has not been able to bring herself to leave the place where she has lived for forty-three years already. First classified as black, the house was reclassified as red by the expert. “I was able to live on the side that wasn’t too affected. Anyway, I would have put something in the garden to stay here. »

In La Laigne, among the empty houses, awaiting work or for sale, the smoke from a grill betrays the presence of Lise and Alex. The young couple settled there after the earthquake last December. Without fear. “We still made sure that it was habitable, and the owner did some work. » The tenants admit that the decor has everything of a “ghost town”, but they feel good there. “We need to revive businesses, to bring back a little life. Afterwards, if we had children, nothing says that we would have come to live here…”

“Things are moving faster”

For Matthieu Priez, president of the Séisme La Laigne collective, there is “a before and an after April 25”, the date on which around twenty insurance companies committed to covering the costs of rehousing victims of the earthquake. . “30% of files concerning the most affected houses were processed on this date. Today we are halfway through. It doesn’t seem like anything, but things are moving faster,” assures the man who had to give a “rant” at the beginning of April. The intervention of the Prime Minister, pressure from the prefect of Charente-Maritime and parliamentarians forced insurers to take their responsibilities. “From now on, case managers come directly to the site,” welcomes Matthieu Priez. A shadow, however: “We managed to bring together parliamentarians from all sides to change the legislation on the care of disaster victims. The dissolution stopped everything. We must continue to fight. »

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