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World

AFP
October 15, 2018

10 dead as flooding hits southwest France

World

AFP
Mon, Oct, 18

VILLEGAILHENC, France: 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 a previous toll of 13 dead 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 will 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 firefighters and half a dozen helicopters to the region to help with rescue operations.

In the town of Trebes, near Carcassonne, the water in the Aude rose eight metres (26 feet) in just five hours, officials said.

In total nine people died in the city, which made headlines earlier this year after a jihadist attacker killed four people in a shooting spree, including a police officer who took the place of a hostage.

Two elderly residents died overnight in Villegailhenc, where the main bridge collapsed, and one person was killed in Villalier.

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.

But the French weather forecasting service, Meteo France, suggested these episodes had recently become more frequent and more severe.

An unrelated storm on Sunday also hit Portugal, leaving 28 people with minor injuries and hundreds of thousands without power amid flooding in the region around the capital Lisbon.

The heavy rains, which later rolled on through Spain, were the tail end of Hurricane Leslie in the Atlantic, which weakened to a post-tropical storm as it made landfall.

Last week, another weather system moving across the Mediterranean left 12 people dead on the Spanish island of Majorca as well as two people in southeast France.

Further north, nearly 100 people have evacuated due to flooding in Norway, where heavy rainfall has been accompanied by warm temperatures that have accelerated the melting of snow.