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Government earmarks aid for storm damage

The Swiss government has approved almost SFr600 million to repair damage caused by December's storms. In an announcement following the regular cabinet meeting, the Swiss environment minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said the damage had been catastrophic.

This content was published on February 16, 2000 - 18:46

The Swiss government has approved almost SFr600 million to repair damage caused by December's storms. In an announcement following the regular cabinet meeting, the Swiss environment minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said the damage had been catastrophic.

For several weeks the cantons have been in discussion with the Swiss government about extra help for clearing up and reparations.

'The damage caused by the storms ranks as a catastrophe,' Leuenberger said, 'even if the government were not bound by law to help in such cases, we would have offered extra financial aid.'

Most of the money - SFr483 million - will go towards repairing Switzerland's devastated forests. The storms destroyed 13 million square metres of woodland, and now there is an urgent need to clear the fallen trees. But, it is not a job for just anyone. Eight people have already been killed in the clean up operation, and Moritz Leuenberger made it clear that the cantons would be recruiting only trained personnel.

'This is a highly skilled, and dangerous job,' he said, 'we have had plenty of offers from volunteers, but really it is a job only for experts.' He added that the government would ease employment restrictions so that cantons could offer work to skilled foresters from European Union countries.

Two-thirds of the fallen trees are now expected to be removed from the forests, and in areas where the forests are not irreparably damaged, new trees will be planted. The government also hopes to prevent a collapse in timber prices, by not allowing too much wood onto the market too soon. Long term storage areas for wood will be built.

A further SFr100 million is earmarked for damaged transport links such as railway lines and cables cars. And a special fund of four and half million francs is earmarked for the replanting of fruit trees. Up to 80,000 are thought to have been destroyed in the storm, seriously adding to a decrease in the number of fruit trees which has been going on for the last 50 years.

The government hopes the decision to allocate the SFr600 million will now allow the cantons to get on with repairing the storm damage. But, for final approval the package will go before the Swiss parliament at its next session in March.

The storms have killed over 20 people, both in December and during the subsequent clear-up operations.

By Imogen Foulkes

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