Tor­ren­tial rains wreak havoc in France

‘Worst flood­ing ever seen’ kills at least 16 peo­ple and blocks roads, trains

Toronto Star - - WORLD - LIONEL CIRONNEAU AND AN­GELA CHARL­TON

AN­TIBES, FRANCE— In a mat­ter of min­utes, tor­ren­tial rains trans­formed the post­card-per­fect French Riviera into a ter­ri­fy­ing flood zone, leav­ing at least 16 dead, trap­ping hun­dreds of ail­ing pil­grims and halt­ing car and train traf­fic Sun­day along the mud­drenched Mediter­ranean coast.

Vic­tims were found dead in a re­tire­ment home, camp­sites and cars sub­merged in a tun­nel. Res­i­dents, stunned by the fe­roc­ity of the brief down­pour Satur­day night, de­scribed it as the worst flood­ing they’d ever seen — so dra­matic that Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande paid an emer­gency visit Sun­day to prom­ise gov­ern­ment aid for vic­tims.

He­li­copters pa­trolled the area and 27,000 homes were with­out elec­tric­ity Sun­day af­ter rivers and streams over­flowed their banks and fierce thun­der­storms poured more than 18 cen­time­tres of rain in Cannes and other ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Min­istry. The Cannes re­gion saw the equiv­a­lent of two months of rain­fall in less than two hours, lo­cal ra­dio France Bleu-Azur re­ported.

Hol­lande said the over­all death toll by mid­day Sun­day was 16, with three still miss­ing. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials gave con­flict­ing re­ports about ca­su­alty fig­ures through­out the day, as emer­gency ser­vices fanned out across the re­gion to check homes, stores and over­turned cars for vic­tims.

“It’s not over,” Hol­lande said, vis­it­ing the flood-stricken re­tire­ment home in the town of Biot and meet­ing with emer­gency work­ers.

He ex­pressed con­do­lences to fam­i­lies of vic­tims and urged res­i­dents to re­main cau­tious, es­pe­cially on the re­gion’s roads, many of which re­mained im­pass­able Sun­day. He promised aid for res­i­dents hit by the flood­ing and lamented se­ri­ous dam­age to lo­cal busi­nesses.

Some res­i­dents crit­i­cized author­i­ties for not do­ing more to pre­vent flood dam­age in the re­gion, which is prized by tourists and res­i­dents for its mild year-round cli­mate but which has seen in­creas­ing flood­ing in re­cent years. Lo­cal fire­fight­ers and me­te­o­rol­o­gists said the amount of rain Satur­day was un­usual for the re­gion this time of year, but were es­pe­cially shocked by the in­ten­sity and speed of the storm.

Peo­ple were found dead in the towns of Cannes, Biot, Golfe-Juan and Man­delieu-la-Napoule in the south­east, the pres­i­dent’s of­fice said.

Three el­derly peo­ple were killed in the re­tire­ment home. Three oth­ers were found dead in their car af­ter en­ter­ing a flooded tun­nel. In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Pierre-Henry Bran­det said the dead in­cluded vic­tims who had been trapped in a park­ing lot and camp­sites.

In nearby An­tibes, camp­sites along the Brague River were sud­denly in­un­dated with muddy wa­ter, leav­ing cars over­turned. Sev­eral trains were stopped be­cause of flooded tracks, and traf­fic re­mained stopped along the Mediter­ranean coast all day Sun­day. Sev­eral roads were closed.

Some 2,500 Ital­ian pil­grims — many of them sick and dis­abled — were among those stuck on trains. They had trav­elled to the shrine in Lour­des, where Catholic faith­ful of­ten go seek­ing cures for ail­ments, and were en route back to Italy when the storm hit.

Sev­eral of the stalled trains car­ried spe­cially out­fit­ted hos­pi­tal-style cars, able to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple on stretch­ers. Uni­talsi, an Ital­ian group that brings the sick and dis­abled to Lour­des, said the pil­grims were gen­er­ally in good health and spir­its though of­fi­cials ex­pressed some con­cern for dial­y­sis pa­tients if the de­lays stretched on.

BORIS HOR­VAT/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Cars stacked up onto one another in south­east­ern France af­ter vi­o­lent flood­ing along the French Riviera.

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