Flash floods tore through towns in southwest France, turning streams into raging torrents that authorities said killed at least seven people and seriously injured five others. Some people had to be helicoptered to safety from the roofs of their homes as overnight storms dumped several months of rain in just a few hours.
Authorities said four deaths were clustered around the town of Villegailhenc in the Aude region, where a powerful, roiling surge of muddy water and debris ripped out a bridge.
Even as diluvial overnight rains that swept in from the Mediterranean began to ease Monday morning, France’s Interior Ministry said the toll of seven deaths and five serious injuries could rise.
In Villegailhenc, Ines Siguet said the waters rose so quickly that people were stranded on the roofs of their homes and had to be helicoptered to safety. She posted video of the ripped-up road where the bridge used to be, with the town now cut in half.
“There’s nothing left, there’s just a hole,” the 17-yearold resident told The Associated Press. “It was very violent.”
Other roads also were flooded, leaving the town cut off. Siguet’s school was shut down amid the destruction.
Alain Thirion, the prefect of the Aude, said some of the dead appeared to have been swept away by floodwaters. In the town of Conques-sur-Orbiel, the river rose by more than six meters (20 feet), he said.
Floodwaters were in some cases too powerful for emergency services to get through, even on boats, he said.
Television images showed waters coursing through French towns and villages, with cars stranded in the floods and piled up on top of each other like children’s toys.
The French government rushed hundreds of rescue workers into flash flood zone and helicopters buzzed overhead. Schools were closed and authorities were urging people to stay home.
John Leicester, The Associated Press