Flash floods caught people in the French Riviera completely unawares and have so far claimed more than a dozen lives. The majority of those killed were trapped in tunnels and underground car parks.
Violent storms, accompanied with torrential rains, lashed south-eastern France over the weekend. The worst affected was the picturesque French Riviera, where 16 people have died and authorities have received reports of three more missing, reported the Wall Street Journal. Of those killed were three elderly people, who were trapped in their retirement home near the city of Antibes. Due to the sudden downpour, flash floods occurred, trapping them in floodwater. Most of the others died because they were in tunnels and underground parks, which flooded in a matter of minutes, trapping and then drowning them.
Speaking about the flash floods, Cannes resident Katya Higham-Stoianova said, “It was terrifying. We wanted to go out but decided not to as the rain was unbelievably heavy. The level of water was rising very quickly.”
French President Francois Hollande has declared a state of “natural disaster” in the affected region, reported MSN. While Mr. Hollande himself attested to the fact that about 16 have died and three remain missing, government officials have been receiving inconclusive reports about the exact number of casualties. Only when the floodwaters recede will the actual tally be revealed, they solemnly added.
The president thanked the untiring efforts by the emergency rescue workers while expressing “solidarity of the nation.” He also cautioned that the worst may not yet be over and has urged residents to remain “cautious.” While observing the damage to the French Riviera, he stressed that those affected by the flash floods will be extended aid.
Incessant and heavy rains have caused havoc in the otherwise beautiful French Riviera. The rains flooded the streets with thick mud and water that moved like a swift, unrelenting river. The muddy water quickly overpowered the weak defenses of the buildings and flooded the underground car parks before submerging lower levels. The rains and the muddy water messed up transportation facilities like the roads and railway tracks, severely disrupting car and train traffic along the Mediterranean coast.
The rains caused the Brague River to overflow its banks, resulting in the additional carnage. The metrological department confirmed that the French Riviera received 6.7 inches of rain in two short hours on Saturday night. The fierce thunderstorms have been showing signs of weakness and may recede soon, but the damage has been done. Cannes mayor Davis Lisnard added,
“Some cars were carried off into the sea. We have rescued a lot of people, and we must now be vigilant against looting.”
Majority of the towns have become completely inaccessible due the breakdown of conventional means of transportation, making rescue efforts difficult. Helicopters have been patrolling the area. The authorities added that more than 27,000 homes were cut off from basic utilities.
The French Riviera doesn’t experience such intensity of rains and resultant flash floods. Such was the ferocity of the floods, Eric Ciotti, president of the Alpes-Maritimes department, tweeted.
“We have lived through an apocalyptic situation that we have never experience before.”
The floods even trapped hundreds of spectators who had gathered to watch a French league soccer match in Nice. Among the stranded were 2,500 Italian pilgrims — many of them sick and disabled — who had been to the Marian shrine in Lourdes, where the Catholic faithful often go seeking cures for ailments, reported the Los Angeles Times. Fortunately, the majority of the stalled trains had special hospital-style cars that have been caring for them.
Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims of the floods in the French Riviera during his weekly Sunday blessing from St. Peter’s Square.
[Image Credit | Boris Horvat, Jean-Christophe Magnenet / Getty Images]