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WEATHER

Updated: Two bodies found in southern France after flash floods sweep cars out to sea

Two bodies from the same car were found on Thursday morning after several vehicles were swept out to sea during violent storms and torrential rain in the south of France.

Updated: Two bodies found in southern France after flash floods sweep cars out to sea
Illustration photo. AFP

The local authority chief of the Var department on the south east coast said that several vehicles had been taken by the sea between Saint-Maxime and Roquebrune, where there was 210mm of rainfall over night.

The bodies of two passengers, a man and a woman from the same vehicle, were found on Thursday morning. 

The cars were washed out to sea at around 11pm after the river Garonnette burst its banks.

It is still unclear whether the other vehicles were occupied.

The search had to be called off due to poor visibility and the dirtiness of the sea, but began again on Thursday morning. Around 100 firefighters have been drafted in for the search.

 

Earlier, Var prefect Jean-Luc Videlaine feared that the storm had claimed victims but that it was too early to tell how many.

He recommended members of the public avoid driving and stay out of underground garages.

“By trying to save your car you can put yourself in serious danger,” he said.

Storms and torrential rain hit the Var from Wednesday afternoon with the Gulf of St Tropez suffering the worst of the extreme weather.

The Var was one of several departments that had been on alert for violent storms on Wednesday. By Thursday the Orange level warning – the second highest – had been switched to a flood warning with river levels rising dangerously high.

In Frejus the local authority was preparing to evacuate two campsites out of precaution as the level of the Argens river continued to rise.

The departments of Alpes-Maritimes and the island of Corsica remained on alert for storms on Thursday.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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