Flash floods claim at least 12 lives in France

The equivalent of up to four months’ rain falls in just six hours in south central France

Southwest France has been hit by severe flash floods, with four months' rain falling in just six hours. Video: Reuters

 

At least 12 people drowned in flash floods in south central France early yesterday, as the equivalent of up to four months’ rain fell in just six hours. The Aude department was hardest hit, and the largest number of victims were in Trèbes, near Carcassonne, where water rose eight metres in five hours, a level unprecedented since 1891.

A nun in her 90s drowned in her sleep at Villardonnel monastery. Stained glass windows were blown out, and surviving nuns described the disaster as an “apocalypse”.  

Dramatic images relayed by drones showed kilometre after kilometre of flooded fields, uprooted trees, houses surrounded by water, barely visible roofs of submerged vehicles and broken roads.

At Villegailhenc, a bridge was washed away. “It happened at incredible speed,” Gérard, an inhabitant of Villegailhenc told France Info radio. “The water was a metre deep on the first floor of our house. Fortunately we have an attic. We took refuge in the attic with the dog and cat. We spent the night in the attic.”

Dozens of residents of the area were rescued from their rooftops by helicopter.

Aude remained under a “red alert” for flooding throughout the day, while the neighbouring departments of Hérault, Aveyron and eastern Pyrenees were placed under an “orange alert”

Prime minister Edouard Philippe visited the area to see what he called the “stigmata” of the storm. “We have literally never seen such a thing,” he said. About 700 firemen, 12 helicopters and a marine infantry regiment were mobilised for the rescue, he added, announcing a fast-track procedure for declaring the region a natural disaster.

At a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, President Emmanuel Macron thanked French rescue services for their “exemplary mobilisation” and expressed the “emotion” and “solidarity” of the French nation.

Postponed reshuffle

Mr Macron promised to visit the area “as soon as possible”. He postponed a cabinet reshuffle, which has been expected for two weeks, out of respect for the victims.

About 1,800 people were evacuated from Pezens, out of fear a nearby damn would break. Train traffic stopped between Narbonne and Carcassonne. The electricity company Enedis announced it was deploying 16 power generator groups to help the 10,000 clients who lost electricity.

Some commentators attributed the freak weather to global warming. Meteo France said a “rainy zone” had settled over “the entire east of the Midi-Pyrénees towards Roussillon and the east of Languedoc” overnight.