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
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas