Hunt for missing after devastating floods on French Riviera

Hunt for missing after devastating floods on French Riviera

5th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

Rescue workers searched Monday for four people still missing after floods tore through the French Riviera, leaving around 17 dead, while a clean-up began of normally glitzy towns now strewn with mud and debris.

Mediterranean resort towns beloved by jet-setting tourists such as Cannes, Nice and Antibes were devastated by a torrential weekend downpour that trapped residents in cars, parking garages and retirement homes.

Rivers of water gushed through some of the world's wealthiest streets, scattering cars hundreds of metres from where they were parked and destroying businesses in what were described as "apocalyptic" scenes.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed the death of a British national in the floods, without giving further details.

"We are still at the terrible figure of 17 dead and search operations have resumed. There are still numerous flooded parking garages that need to be emptied out to verify that there are no more victims," said regional government official Francois-Xavier Lauch.

One person was still missing in Antibes, two in Cannes and another in the town of Mandelieu-la-Napoule where seven people died after being trapped in their parking garages when they tried to remove their cars.

"It's apocalyptic," said Mandelieu-la-Napoule mayor Henri Leroy. "There are thousands of vehicles. There could be more bodies."

In the town of Biot, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Monte-Carlo where three people drowned in a retirement home, hundreds of clean-up officers clad in diving suits and carrying chainsaws set to removing trees and debris strewn around a river.

Some 9,000 households in the region still had no electricity after the record rainfall that saw 180 mm (seven inches) of water in Cannes alone -- nearly two months' worth in three hours.

- Questions over alert status -

President Francois Hollande toured the region, where he said a state of natural catastrophe would be declared Wednesday to allow emergency funds to be channelled to the devastated region.

As criticism grew over the fact the region had been placed only on "orange alert" status ahead of the storm, meteorologists were called on to local television stations to explain how their systems had failed to raise the alarm ahead of the torrential downpour.

Pascal Brovelli of the Meteo-France weather service told AFP the damage was due to more rain than expected falling in a very short period of time in heavily urbanised areas.

"Should we have been" on alert red? "We will have to see if we could have anticipated what happened," government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on France Inter radio.

Hollande said Sunday the disaster pointed to an environmental lesson to be learnt.

"There have always been catastrophes. But their frequency and intensity are on the increase," he said, urging that environmental "decisions be taken" as France prepares to host UN-led climate talks in December on a post-2020 pact to curb greenhouse gases.

- 'A wave carried us away' -

Also hard-hit was the Antibes Marineland, Europe's biggest marine park, where penguins and sea lions found themselves in mud-filled pools.

"We have no electricity, no flowing water," said park director Bernard Gianpaolo, as dozens of firemen worked to pump out water blocking filtration systems at the park.

Shocked residents gave graphic accounts of the drama.

"I saw water pour in from the veranda. Within five minutes, it was up to my waist," said France Oberlin, a retired resident of Mandelieu-la-Napoule.

"I couldn't open the doors but luckily a neighbour came."

Seated on a plastic chair, surrounded by debris and overturned cars, she looked despairingly at her ground-floor apartment, in which everything had been destroyed.

Guy Morales in Cannes described how he was in his car when "a sort of wave carried us away. We couldn't do anything, the car hurtled down the street."

He, his wife and his dog managed to get out the car and waited for three hours on top of a wall for the water, which had been at shoulder height, to recede.

Rail operator SNCF was trying to restore train services after serious damage to tracks, electrical lines and infrastructure in the flood.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said nine people had been arrested in Cannes for looting.

The region's worst flood in the past 25 years was in June 2010, when 25 people were killed and there was one billion euros ($1.12 billion) of damage.

In December 1999, 92 people in France were killed by flooding, fallen trees and other storm damage caused by hurricane-strength winds that struck northwestern Europe.

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© 2015 AFP

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