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Storm Alex, 3 months later: Ugo and Fabienne’s fight for their chalet of happiness

Ugo and Fabienne Da Rugna, 70 and 66, had probably never been so happy. Last July, this retired couple had bought, at the exit of Roquebillière, part of the Chalet des Foreigners: a beautiful building with ocher facades with a vegetable garden facing south and the sound of the Vésubie flowing below to rock their nights.

In her youth, Fabienne l’Alsacienne used to spend her summers there as a tenant, in the wake of her parents. Then, in her forties, the nurse met Ugo, a local boy who had become a mason and stonemason. For more than two decades, they first lived in a house with no obvious charm, just across the road up to Saint-Martin. Before putting down their bags in this old hotel built in 1883, where Ugo already imagined ending his days.

Storm Alex, 3 months later: Ugo and Fabienne's fight for their chalet of happiness

This cursed Friday, October 2, they first worried about two of their closest neighbors, Josette and Léopold Borello, 83 and 88 years old. They lived in a pretty house, right by the river. They felt the danger coming… But too late. “The last time I spoke to Josette, it was not yet dark and the water was starting to rise in their homes,” recalls Fabienne. We had agreed that they would come and have dinner and take shelter with us. But then everything went very quickly… ”

Time no doubt to prepare some business, this octogenarian couple is invaded by raging waters and tries to take refuge on the roof. Before being swept away by a monstrous wave that ravages their home, under the eyes of helpless firefighters. Today, there is no trace left, neither of the house nor of the garden. The places were covered by stones. Ugo has tears in his eyes just thinking about it.

A dangerous bank abandoned

But a light is rekindled by evoking his fight. The one he leads with Fabienne to save their house. Since a municipal decree of October 12, they have been temporarily prohibited from staying there. A security measure taken against “the risk of erosion of the bank subjected to torrential floods”.

An expert observed that the walls inside the house were sound. But a large crack also appeared on a pinion. And the threat of collapse is now taken seriously. “If nothing is done to consolidate the bank, our house will end up collapsing”, Fabienne moves with a touch of Alsatian accent. “But then it will be the fault of the public authorities, not because of the storm Alex,” she warns.

On October 2, the flood of the Vésubie, at the foot of the house, carried everything in its path.  LP / AD
On October 2, the flood of the Vésubie, at the foot of the house, carried everything in its path. LP / AD

On the opposite bank, considerable work has been carried out to protect the power station and maintain production. In comparison, Ugo and Fabienne feel abandoned to their sad fate. In early December, the mayor of Roquebillière, Gérard Manfredi, however told them that the public authorities would try to save their house. “But he also said that we did not deserve it, lament Ugo and Fabienne with the same voice. Perhaps because we are not content with fine words and want actions… ”Even if it means making waves by posting banners on the facade of their house to demand, again and again, consolidation work from the bank.

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The two retirees also wrote to Eric Ciotti, the deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes, a native of the Vésubie valley and former president of the departmental council. The politician (LR) replied to them, also in writing, that the State was “in the process of finalizing the analysis of the areas to be protected” and that he, Eric Ciotti, “will defend their interests at all times”.

A purely financial dilemma

When questioned, the mayor of Roquebillière, Gérard Manfredi readily admits that the Chalet des Foreigners, the house of Ugo and Fabienne, is the case “which makes the most noise in the town”. But there is no question of abandoning these two citizens in the hands of technocrats.

“Their house is located in the red zone, exposes the elected official. This means that it must in principle be destroyed but without this necessarily being irremediable. In fact, we are all waiting for a response from the State services which should in principle take place in the last days of the year. “

The retirees have installed a banner to sensitize the villagers to their cause.  LP / AD
The retirees have installed a banner to sensitize the villagers to their cause. LP / AD

The rest is a pure financial equation. “It all depends on the preferred approach,” continues Gérard Manfredi. If we are content to oppose the price of the work to be done to an estimate of the value of the house, then it will be destroyed. But if we include the cost of rehousing, the price of new land and any reconstruction, the calculation deserves to be made and the house can be saved… ”

“This house is large enough to accommodate three families,” Ugo and Fabienne recall. We are on the first floor but there are two other families on the upper floors. “

Time is running out and each passing day would weaken the building even more. To strengthen the structure of the building, Ugo and Fabienne have encircled their house with electric wires. A DIY whose effectiveness is poorly measured but which says a lot about the strength of their attachment.