Death toll in French floods rises to 25

 

THE DEATH toll from flash floods in the hills above the French Riviera rose to 25 yesterday as blackouts and thunderstorms frustrated clean-up operations.

Torrential rain on Tuesday afternoon caused the worst floods in the region in almost 200 years, with trees and cars being swept away and huge craters opening in village streets.

Interior minister Brice Hortefeux called it an “unprecedented catastrophe” for the region, while prime minister Francois Fillon said he would convene a special cabinet meeting to discuss the disaster.

Mr Fillon offered his condolences to the victims’ families and pledged that “all the resources of the state have been mobilised” to help those in the affected areas. He also said president Nicolas Sarkozy would visit the region in the coming days.

Up to 40cm (16in) of rain fell since Tuesday, causing the worst floods in the region since 1827. “We have never seen so much rain in the month of June,” Patrick Galois of Meteo France said.

Intermittent storms hampered the clean-up operation, but officials said the weather was due to improve today.

While rescue operations had wound down yesterday, the authorities did not exclude the possibility of further bodies being found as the muddy water receded.

“The waters have begun to ease, but it’s not total and some zones are still inaccessible,” said Jacques Baudot, head of the Var department fire service.

In the town of Draguignan, where 12 of the deaths occurred, telephone and water services were down and the defence ministry was helping to bring drinking water to the area yesterday.

More than 1,400 people were evacuated by helicopter after the initial rain, including some people taken out of a flooded nursing home in Draguignan, local officials said.

Some 455 prisoners were transferred from the jail at Draguignan to other prisons in southern France, after waters rose to just over 3m (10ft) inside the facility.

All schools in the area were closed yesterday.

While Draguignan bore the brunt of the damage, bodies were also found in Luc, Roquebrune, Fréjus, Trans, La Motte and Saint-Aygulf. The floods also hit the holiday resort of St Tropez.

Some 94,000 homes across the region remained without electricity yesterday, while 15,000 had had their phone lines cut. Some 1,600 rescue workers, electricians and other specialists were deployed across the region in order to restore services and help communities cope.

Many of those who died were trapped in their cars as waters surged through streets in the worst hit area, around the town of Draguignan.

Near the town of Fréjus, where electricity was still not fully restored yesterday, hundreds of holiday-makers were forced to leave flooded campsites and took refuge in makeshift shelters provided by local authorities.

Across the region, some 2,000 people were being housed in makeshift accommodation.

Secondary roads and train lines in the worst-affected parts of the Var remained closed, leaving many tourists stranded in Toulon and Nice, but services were expected to resume today.