Grim search after France floods kill 22

17th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rescuers dug through mud-filled cars and wreckage for bodies in France's Cote d'Azur on Thursday after the worst floods in two centuries killed 22 people.

Authorities in the Var region raised the death toll to 22 on Thursday from an earlier count of 20 after the floodwaters engulfed streets in torrents of mud and drove people onto the roofs of their homes.

They did not rule out a further rise in the toll while picking through the wreckage.

A new storm hit the region early Thursday as rescuers searched for a handful of people still missing and helicopters circled overhead.

The worst storms since 1827 sent a torrent of muddy brown water surging through Draguignan, a Provence town of 40,000 people where 11 people were found dead.

Scores of cars were piled on top of each other and holiday homes and camp sites in the region were devastated.

"We are looking for people, we check that there is nothing under the remains of the cars," said the deputy prefect for Draguignan, Corinne Orzechowski, on Wednesday.

The swollen Nartuby river which runs through Draguignan also hit the village of Trans-en-Provence where five other bodies were found.

Another victim was found in Luc, two in Roquebrune, one in Frejus on the Cote d'Azur, one in the Saint-Cassien lake and one in Saint-Aygulf, the regional prefecture said.

The floods also badly hit the chic holiday resort of St Tropez.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called it an "unprecedented catastrophe" for the region.

About 104,000 homes were still without electricity on Thursday, provider RTE said, after measures that had briefly restored it to all but 25,000 homes failed.

Helicopters on Wednesday rescued people trapped on roof tops and in cars. Emergency teams also moved 436 inmates to nearby jails from a flooded prison in Draguignan where the water covered the first two floors.

At the resort of Frejus, more than 1,500 people were taken to safety, many in inflatable boats or by helicopter.

About 2,000 soldiers, firefighters and police were brought in to lead the rescue operation after the floodwaters swiftly rose.

The SNCF rail company halted train services along the coast between Toulon and Nice until Friday. Many smaller roads inland remained blocked.

President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit the area early next week, his office said. Sarkozy issued a statement expressing condolences for the victims' families.

Orzechowski said more than 30 centimetres (12 inches) of rain had fallen since Tuesday in Draguignan.

"We woke up to find a city that was devastated, extremely battered with overturned cars floating in the streets, collapsed roads and gutted houses," she said.

Flooding also hit southwestern France, including the Atlantic resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Bayonne, where a hospital was flooded.

© 2010 AFP

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