Worst flooding in France for six decades kills 27

THE DEATH-TOLL from floods that have ravaged three departements in south-western France rose to 27 yesterday, amid tales of heroism and stubborn survival and three family tragedies.

Near Nevian, south of Montpellier, villagers constructed makeshift rafts and lifelines to try to rescue a family of four who were marooned in two trees when their car was overturned by a raging torrent three metres deep and 800 metres wide that had once been the river Aude.

The villagers reached the father and his four-year-old daughter after a three-hour struggle, but the little girl died of hypothermia a few minutes later. The mother was saved from another tree, but her seven-year-old son lost his grip and fell into the torrent just before the rescuers arrived.

In Labastide-Rouairoux, a little to the north in the Tarn departement, a woman and her three children died when a mudslide engulfed their house in the early hours of Saturday morning, after a day of torrential rain.

Four members of another family, who were on a hunting expedition, died when their car was swept away by the deluge late on Friday night near Felines-Termenes in the Aude departement.

At Villedaigne, near by, Romain Larrigole, 21, clung to an electricity pylon for nine hours, surrounded by floodwaters a kilometre wide, after his van overturned. He was finally rescued by firemen on Saturday morning. "It seemed that I had waited for an eternity," he said.

There were fears last night that the death-toll might still grow. Nine people were reported missing in the Aude alone. Ten potholers have been trapped since Friday by rising water in two separate cave systems in the Lot departement, about 100 miles to the north. Initial rescue attempts failed to find either party, but gendarmes said the potholers might have taken refuge in dry caverns. Rescue efforts were due to continue into the night.

The floods also caused widespread damage and two deaths in the departement of Pyrenees Orientales, but the water was said to be receding yesterday afternoon. In the Tarn and the Aude departements, however, villages were still cut off by floodwater, and heavy falls of rain were forecast overnight.

The floods, said to be the worst for at least 60 years, overwhelmed river banks and dikes on Friday in a matter of minutes. Several rescue vehicles which answered the first emergency calls were also swept away. The region traditionally receives a large part of its annual rainfall in late autumn but the downpours on Friday afternoon and evening were exceptional. Close to 600 millimetres were recorded in several places - the average rainfall for a whole year.

The Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, said the floods were a "natural catastrophe" but the heavy rainfall could not alone explain the speed and ferocity with which streams and rivers broke their banks. She called for an inquiry focusing on the changes in drainage patterns caused by new buildings and modern agriculture and forestry methods.

President Jacques Chirac visited Carcassonne, in the middle of the afflicted area, on Saturday night to show "solidarity" with rescue workers and displaced families. He offered the "sympathy of the nation" to the relatives of the victims and thanked the 700 firemen, gendarmes and soldiers who were mobilised to search for survivors.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue