France floods kill 25, wreck homes

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Rescuers combed wrecked cars and homes for bodies in France's Cote d'Azur on Thursday after the worst floods in two centuries killed 25 people including a two-year-old, authorities said.

Authorities in the Var, a favourite holiday region, raised the death toll to 25 on Thursday from an earlier count of 22 after the floodwaters engulfed streets in torrents of mud and drove people onto the roofs of their homes.

A two-year-old child died after falling into the flood water as a family scrambled to escape their home in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, authorities said.

Officials warned other bodies might be found as the search continued with rescuers digging through mud-filled cars and wreckage looking for about a dozen people still reported missing as helicopters circled overhead.

"There are still flooded places which have yet to be inspected, such as the campsites on the coast," said Laurent Robert, an official in the state prosecutor's office in Draguignan, the town worst hit with at least 12 dead.

Another source said a one-month-old baby was missing.

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

"Everything is ruined, unusable," said Edouard Gregoriou, who runs a restaurant and boating service in Roquebrune. "We have pedal-boats scattered for miles around, and mobile homes in trees."

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

Other victims were found in Luc, Roquebrune, Frejus, the Saint-Cassien lake and Saint-Aygulf, the regional prefecture said. The floods also badly hit the chic holiday resort of St Tropez.

The national weather office said they were the worst storms in the region since 1827. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called it an "unprecedented catastrophe" for the region.

About 94,000 homes were still without electricity on Thursday, the regional authorities said.

"The electricity is down. All the mobile homes have been overturned," said Regis Fardoux, director of a campsite near Frejus. "The season is finished."

Helicopters on Wednesday rescued people trapped on roof tops and in cars. Emergency teams 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.

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

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

The deputy prefect for Draguignan, Corinne Orzechowski, said more than 30 centimetres (12 inches) of rain had fallen there since Tuesday.

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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