Floods Cause Death and Disaster in Southern France

December 4, 2003

Torrential rains, which have been falling on Southern France for almost a week, have caused heavy flooding in the region, resulting in five reported deaths, bringing road and rail transport to a standstill and halting most commercial activities.

The floods have hit the region all the way from north of Lyon to the Spanish border. The Rhone, one of France’s largest rivers, overflowed its banks in many places, while smaller tributaries have risen from 2 to 4 meters (6 to 12 feet) above their normal height, sweeping away cars and flooding cities. The local Prefect (Departmental Administrator) declared Marseille and the area around it a disaster area. Paris has already released 12 million euros ($14.6 million) in emergency aid.

Meteo France (the national weather service) issued a “red alert,” its strongest warning level, for much of the southeastern coast, as new storms pushed by winds up to 150 kmh. (90 mph) were expected to hit the region today. No relief is in sight before Friday.

No damage estimates have yet been released, but the losses will be high. French television, which has devoted most of its news programs to the flooding, has shown scenes of wrecked cars, collapsed roads and retaining walls, flooded factories and ruined farmland. Schools have been closed and large portions of the region remain effectively closed down as emergency workers continue to rescue people trapped by floodwaters.

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