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Storms delayed start of term

FRANCE

THE government has ordered an urgent inquiry into damage inflicted on schools by the worst storms for a century.

Councils were accused of allowing design to take priority over building strength as the newest schools appeared most vulnerable to the hurricane.

Thousands of pupils were unable to start the new term on time after the storms swept the country over Christmas.

More than 1,000 schools lost classrooms, gyms and other facilities, while many others were also affected. About 200 schools in Paris were damaged.

Education minister Claude Allegre said he hoped building regulations for schools would be modified to take account of new climatic conditions.

Since the mid-1980s the three tiers of local, departmental and regional government have had responsibility for financing, providing and maintaining school buildings.

In certain ares, notably the Ile-de-France region around Paris, schools built recently were the worst hit. This prompted teachers and education officials to question whether local authorities were regarding new schools too much as status symbols adorned with features such as concrete or metal awnings which could not withstand high winds.

Without blaming authorities, Mr Allegre said he found it "astonishing to see a brand-new building with its roof torn off, while not far off an older one has resisted".

But later investigations nationwide did not confirm that the newest schools had necessarily suffered disproportionately. Many were built during the last decade in the Ile-de-France, a flat region vulnerable to storms, so those suffering severe damage were likely to be new. In other regions, such as Alsace and Franche-Comte, schools built in the 1950s were worse hit.

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