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10 killed as floods batter southern France

Updated October 16, 2018

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AN aerial view shows the flooded city of Trèbes in southern France on Monday.—AFP
AN aerial view shows the flooded city of Trèbes in southern France on Monday.—AFP

VILLEGAILHENC: At least 10 people died when violent rainstorms turned rivers into raging torrents in southwest France on Monday, prompting some of the deadliest flooding in years, officials said.

The equivalent of three months of rainfall was dumped overnight in the region of Carcassonne in just a few hours, inundating fields and towns while sending rivers over their banks, including the Aude, which reached levels not seen in 100 years.

Local authorities in the Aude department said 10 people were killed, down from the previous death toll of 13 given by the interior ministry.

At least one person was still missing and eight were injured, authorities added.

President Emmanuel Macron, whose office said he would soon visit the affected areas, offered “the sympathy and solidarity of the entire nation for the victims of the Aude flooding and their families.”

The rescue operations appear to have put back an expected announcement on a government reshuffle, triggered by the sudden resignation of interior minister Gerard Collomb nearly two weeks ago.

One of the overnight victims was an 88-year-old nun who was swept from her room by floodwaters at the Burning Bush priory in the village of Villardonnel, north of the fortress city of Carcassonne.

“The water crashed through the building’s main door and on through the door to her room, the lowest in the convent. It carried away her furniture which ended up on the veranda,” said Sister Irene, the mother superior.

Elsewhere, flash floods overturned cars, ripped up streets and battered buildings and bridges, especially to the north of Carcassonne where authorities ordered bridges closed because of the rising Aude river.

Authorities rushed hundreds of fire-fighters and half a dozen helicopters to the region to help with rescue operations.

Around 1,000 people were evacuated in the area of Pezens, also near Carcassonne, amid fears that a nearby dam could burst, and thousands of homes throughout the area were without electricity after strong winds brought down power lines.

The storms were triggered when a front of warm and humid air from the Mediterranean Sea slammed into colder air around the Massif Central mountain range, inundating an area from the eastern Pyrenees to Aveyron further north.

This well-known weather pattern occurs three to six times a year in the region and nearly always triggers flash flooding.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2018