Picturesque French Riviera hit by deadly flash floods


In a matter of minutes, torrential rains transformed the postcard-perfect French Riviera into a terrifying flood zone, leaving at least 16 dead, trapping hundreds of railroad passengers and halting car and train traffic Sunday along the mud-drenched Mediterranean coast.

President Hollande thank elected officials, police, firemen, and volunteers. Forgot to mention the many “public works” employees of Alpes-Maritimes Conseil General (county government). Guess they get their overtime in three months for a thank you.

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Victims were found dead in a retirement home, campsites, and cars submerged in a tunnel. Residents, stunned by the ferocity of the brief downpour Saturday night, described it as the worst flooding they’d ever seen — so dramatic that President Francois Hollande paid an emergency visit Sunday to promise government aid for victims.

BUT NOT FOR THREE MONTHS

Helicopters patrolled the area and 27,000 homes were without electricity Sunday after rivers and streams overflowed their banks and fierce thunderstorms poured more than 18 centimeters (6.7 inches) of rain in Cannes and some other areas, according to the Interior Ministry. The Cannes region saw the equivalent of two months of rainfall in less than two hours.

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Hollande said the overall death toll by midday Sunday was 16, with three still missing. Government officials gave conflicting reports about casualty figures throughout the day, as emergency services fanned out across the region to check homes, stores and overturned cars for victims.

“It’s not over,” Hollande said, visiting the flood-stricken retirement home in the town of Biot and meeting with emergency workers.

He expressed condolences to families of victims and urged residents to remain cautious, especially on the region’s roads, many of which remained impassable Sunday. He promised aid for residents hit by the flooding and lamented serious damage to local stores and other businesses.

IN THREE MONTHS

Some residents criticized authorities for not doing more to prevent flood damage in the region, which is prized by tourists and residents for its mild year-round climate but which has seen increasing flooding in recent years. Local firefighters and meteorologists said the amount of rain Saturday was unusual for the region this time of year, but were especially shocked by the intensity and speed of the storm.

People were found dead in the towns of Cannes, Biot, Golfe-Juan and Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the southeast.

Three elderly people were killed in the retirement home, Hollande said. Three others were found dead in their car after entering a flooded tunnel, authorities in Golfe-Juan said. Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the dead included victims who had been trapped in a parking lot and campsites.

Winds and rain whipped palm trees along the famed Croisette seaside promenade in Cannes. Some cars parked near the Cannes shore were swept away and overturned by high waves.

In nearby Antibes, campsites along the Brague River were suddenly inundated with muddy water, leaving cars overturned.

Several trains were stopped because of flooded tracks, and traffic remained stopped along the Mediterranean coast between Nice and Toulon all day Sunday. Several roads were closed.

The newly rebuilt Cannes railroad station was completely flooded.

Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims during his weekly Sunday blessing from St. Peter’s Square.

“We express our nearness to the hard-hit populations, including with concrete forms of solidarity,” he said.

The flooding also disrupted a French league soccer match in Nice, forcing the stadium to shut down in the middle of play.

Hundreds of emergency workers were involved in rescue efforts Sunday, helped by bright sun contrasting sharply with the sinister skies the night before.

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