Saturday, November 3, 2007

Deadly collapse of rocks in Choranche

This afternoon, while installing a new lamp on the façade of my house, I heard sirens down on the road that runs alongside the Bourne. A few hours later, Natacha phoned me from Marseille saying that she had heard news on TV of an automobile crushed by rocks at Choranche, a few kilometers up beyond the village, on the road that runs along the cliffs in the direction of Rencurel.

A 47-year-old man and his 13-year-old son were killed instantly by the big rectangular block seen in the above photo, while his wife and two other children were wounded. Four years ago, a similar accident occurred at the same place, crushing two people in an automobile.

I've driven along that awesome road on countless occasions, and I always feel relieved when I get through the sections with overhanging rocks. The authorities often talk of purging and reinforcing the crumbly zones, but everybody knows that it's impossible to guarantee total security. Roads of this kind in the Vercors, often designed by the adjective "aerial", were cut into the faces of the cliffs over a century ago, which means that there has been time for dangerous fissures to grow. When I see the way in which freezing conditions can burst a copper water pipe, I'm not surprised that abrupt temperature variations (such as the onslaught of wintry conditions at Choranche over the last week) can dislodge a huge chunk of overhanging rock. Personally, ever since the first catastrophe of this kind, I've tended to avoid this risky but otherwise spectacular road. And I feel that, after this second accident, more and more travelers will prefer alternative routes. On the other hand, if you look at the situation calmly and evaluate it in terms of statistics, there are far fewer accidents on this road than down on the busy highways through the valley. But statistics don't attenuate the anguish of driving underneath those gigantic blocks of rock, which appear to be suspended precariously and capable of losing their grip on the face of the limestone cliffs and sliding down onto the road.

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