Roads and railways were cut off, isolating thousands of inhabitants who were unaware of what was happening in the neighbouring valley. “When we flew over the valley for the first time the Saturday after the storms, it looked like a war zone. It was as if the road had been bombed; in some places there was no road left,” explained Antoine Albin, a coordinator at NGE Foundations for the French SNCF railway system. “It’s scary when you know the valley and what it used to look like.”
Albin and his team currently are securing the Conti-Vintimille line. In inaccessible areas where machines and equipment are delivered by HDF helicopters, they are working non-stop to restore rail traffic as quickly as possible. “Here, rail access hasn’t been as badly hit as road access, so it’s important to sustain it to open up the villages above the valley as soon as possible,” he states. “In this emergency situation, the helicopter is an essential tool, to ensure the safety of personnel when moving loads, and because of its flexibility, which allows us to go wherever we need quickly. There is a price, of course, but all things considered, the helicopter offers maximum guarantees for safety and technical performance.”
Tende Hospital, which was forced to accept some patients from Saint-Lazare Hospital when it was rendered unusable after Alex hit, also was isolated.
“Medicine, oxygen, gas, heating fuel, food…everything had to be brought in by air,” explained Xavier Coye de Brunelis, pilot and coordinator, who was responsible for regulating helicopter resources for the CHU (University Hospital Centre) in Tende. “Under ordinary circumstances, the H125 can carry 15 tonnes of freight in less than one week, including a tonne of oxygen, 12,000 litres of fuel, medicine, masks, food, etc. We operate around 20 rotations per week that enable the hospital to continue treating its patients.”