Heavy rain on June 15-16 has triggered severe flash floods in southeastern France, killing at least 22 people according to the latest estimates from local authorities. The damage and disruption has been widespread, with hundreds of homes inundated and thousands reported to be without electricity or phone lines. Officials said around 10 people remain missing and they fear the death toll could rise. The southeastern province of Alpes Cote d’Azur has been particularly badly affected, with officials in the Var department saying that damage is severe. Reports said that between 1,500 and 2,500 people were forced to evacuate their homes and spend the night in schools or other temporary shelters, and some 104,000 houses remain without electricity in the aftermath of the flooding.
The torrential rains caused water levels to rise swiftly and Meteo France said the floods are the worst in the region since 1827. The floods, which began late on June 15, swept away cars, trees and parts of houses in a region popular with tourists. According to Meteo France, up to 40 cm (16 inches) of rain has fallen in the Var department since June 15, the equivalent of six months of rainfall. According to reports, this is exceptional for a Mediterranean rainfall event occurring at this time of the year. A number of towns in the Var were affected, with hundreds of homes flooded, according to reports. Officials said they were surprised at how quickly the waters rose, turning streets into torrents that swept cars away. Several foreign tourists were among those evacuated from campsites and villages in the region.
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Reports said water levels reached over 2.5 meters (8 feet) in parts of Var department, with the towns of Draguignan (population of around 40,000), Roquebrune, Le Luc and Fréjus badly affected. More than 350 mm (14 inches) of rain fell on the Var department in a few hours on June 15. Eleven of the deaths were reportedly in Draguignan, where the Artuby River was swollen by the heavy rainfall. Around 3,000 emergency workers, supported by a dozen helicopters, mounted a rescue operation to help hundreds trapped in their vehicles, houses or on rooftops.
The floodwaters also affected transportation in the region. Toulon airport was temporarily closed and the SNCF rail authority suspended services in the Var department, between Toulon and Saint-Raphael. The rising waters also trapped a high speed train traveling from Nice to Lille with 300 passengers on board. Several roads were also blocked. Reports said dozens of cars were piled on top of each other after they were swept away and infrastructure was severely damaged. Local media reported that up to 200,000 homes were without electricity during the height of the flood and drinking water supplies have been disrupted.
France’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that all the support mechanisms of the state would be activated to help flood victims in the affected regions, adding that a ministerial meeting would be taking place on Friday to make the necessary decisions.
The Cote d’Azur floods are France’s second weather-related disaster in about four months. At least 52 people were killed in February when Windstorm Xynthia triggered floods in coastal communities along the country’s Atlantic coast.
Sources: Reuters News, BBC News, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Agence Telegraphique Suisse, Ouest France, CNN News.
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