January 15th, 2014. We had been in Paris for 8 weeks. The apartment was finally getting some order to it; items had been assigned to rooms, pictures we slowly finding homes on walls.
We had upgraded from a 1-bedroom apartment in NY to the luxury of a 2-bedroom apartment in Paris, however, S. had decided his room was put to far better use as a play room vs. a bedroom. Originally contained to a defined area of our Brooklyn living room floor, his train track now extended in to a complex multi route structure that covered virtually the entire floor… a sight to behold… caution… wear slippers!
Sleeping soundly, at about 11:30pm, I was woken by the sound of heavy rain. It was loud and sounded like it was coming in to the room. I got up to examine the window and was then horrified to see that the incessant thud of water drops was coming down from the bedroom ceiling and the pipe in the corner. The dripping was getting more and more frequent and as I turned on the light (maybe not such a. smart move in retrospect) to examine further, a cartoon-esque pop and split left the dripping ceiling crack heading inward so now the bed was getting wet.
I quickly grabbed S. and carried the heavy sleeping body in to his room, navigating train tracks, lego pieces, and various toys and tucked him in to his bed; next were the guitars and various instruments, back and forth, putting as much stuff in the front rooms. Luckily I had a fancy mop and bucket my mum had bought when she was over so after dragging the bed as much out of harms way as i could, I strategically placed the bucket and created some towel dams, grabbed my keys and ran upstairs to knock on my neighbor’s door… ring the bell…. bang on the door… nothing.
Back down stairs, in a panic, I called my french friend and told her what was happening. She gave me a few key works and told me to call the Pompiers. 19. Hello, hello…. de l’eau…Beaucoup… le palfond…. de l’eau …beaucoup… it seemed like they understood but said, as it was not an emergency, they would get there when they could, hopefully with in the hour. I stressed it was an emergency for me …. beaucoup de l’eau… they sounded sympathetic, but as it was not a matter of life and death, I remained in the quasi -emergency list.
I ran upstairs again and banged on my neighbors door… still nothing. I ran downstairs, nothing. The water continued. Now, not only the bedroom, but the bathroom and kitchen ceilings were also dripping and the floors were becoming mini lakes. I got more towels to build additional dams and continued to move boxes and cases out of the bedroom in to the front rooms.
30 minutes later, the pompiers arrived-two strapping young men and a female partner. They examined the situation, eyebrows raised, then they quickly went upstairs… I followed them part way, but by this point the dark stairwell was a mini running water fall and there were other tenants with flashlights out and about, so given my lack of french language dexterity and ability to contribute meaningfully to the situation, I returned to the apartment. Water was encroaching the hall way. I tried not to panic. The bedroom ceiling was starting to peal away. Then the flow started to slow.
When the pompiers came back, water and electricity off, one of them took the mop and started poking at the ceiling until a large amount of plaster fell down on the the bed and the floor. The flow stopped; they wrote up their report, and left.
While not on biblical proportions, the apartment was still left in a state of watery chaos, and the repercussions lasted for months. I spent the next few hours mopping, sweeping and cleaning. Whilst I’m sorry S. missed the pompiers, I was very glad that he actually slept through the entire event.
Having never had home insurance for my entire time in NYC, I was really happy that in France apartment insurance is a mandatory requirement. Whilst a lot of paper work, it did mean that I had some coverage.
First I had to meet with my upstairs neighbor – a 90 year old who had slept through all my door banging, but managed to awake when the Pompiers arrived. Then I had to meet with her insurance company, then my insurance company. There was nothing they could do to repair the walls until they were dry. So they came with their little device that they prodded in the plaster. No. Not dry enough. Again. No. not dry enough.
By May, four months after the event, I was getting really fed up with looking at the hole in the ceiling, and asked again if there was nothing they could do to speed up the process….eventually someone came round who then opened up all the wall (i.e.: removed all the plaster that had been damaged). I don’t know why they didn’t do that immediately. It seems logical now that that would be the best way to dry the walls out. The damaged plaster was extraneous and was going to have to be removed anyway. It seemed to speed up the process significantly, but it was still another month or so before the plasterers and painters came in to fix the three rooms. I have since discovered there are also various other devices that can help dry out the walls (that would have saved my using my hair dryer in attempt to speed things up!)… It must have been my linguistic challenges that meant they didn’t understand my questioning how to address.
I still think this was an oversight and have a niggling feeling that the subsequent bronchial and chest issues S. suffered through the spring and summer could have been a result of the damp walls and potential mould (the little black spots I noticed in the bathroom). The doctor was never able to explain all the shadows in S.’s lungs and the recurring chest infections. Thankfully, his lungs cleared up after he spent the summer in England.
- Home insurance is mandatory in France
- Pompiers phone number 19
- Wet walls dry quicker when stripped and gouged