Tue | Nov 20, 2018

12 die in floods unseen in more than a century

Published:Tuesday | October 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM
People try to pull a car out of a torrent after flash floods in the town of Villegailhenc, southern France on Monday, October 15. Flash floods tore through towns in southwest France, turning streams into raging torrents that authorities said killed several people and seriously injured at least five others.

PARIS (AP):

Flash floods that tore through several towns in southwest France following an overnight storm killed at least 12 people, authorities said on Monday. Some residents had to be helicoptered from rooftops as the equivalent of several months of rain poured down in a few hours and turned waterways into raging torrents.

The River Aude, which flows through towns such as Carcassonne and Trebes, was among the waterways that overflowed from the exceptional rainfall, and the flooding was the region's worst in more than a century, the French agency that monitors flood risks said.

In the town of Villegailhenc, resident Ines Siguet said that floodwaters rose so quickly after the rains swept in from the Mediterranean that residents fled to rooftops. Siguet, 17, posted video of a ripped-up road where a bridge used to stand.

"There's nothing left. There's just a hole," the teenager, whose school was closed amid the destruction, told The Associated Press. "It was very violent."

Residents described violent walls of water that crashed through doors and quickly inundated homes. A Villegailhenc resident described for French news channel BFMTV how little time there was to escape.

"It was raining, raining, raining and my wife says to me, 'We can hear water, switch on the light.' So I switch on the light and nothing. It's pitch black. So what do I do? I get up and my feet are in water. I go to the kitchen, I open the door. Impossible. I am trying hard and then the water rose up to my belly," the resident, who was identified only as Jean-Marc, told the broadcaster. "We took what we could and went to the attic. So I had to take the ladder that was behind the house and had water up to my torso. I was terribly afraid."

Some of the dead appeared to have been swept away by floodwaters, Aude prefect Alain Thirion said. In the town of Conques-sur-Orbiel, the river rose by more than six metres (20 feet), and floodwaters were in some cases too powerful for emergency services to get through, even on boats, he said.

Vigicrues, the French agency that monitors rivers for flood risks, said that water levels in the Aude region were higher than at any time since 1891.

Television images showed water coursing through towns and villages, stranding cars and piling them on top of each other like children's toys.

The French government rushed hundreds of rescue workers to the flood zone and helicopters buzzed overhead.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned to visit the flooded region "as soon as possible," but a date wasn't set in order to avoid disturbing the emergency response work, a government official said.