LATEST: 10 dead in south-western France after storms cause severe flooding

At least 10 people have died and five seriously injured in the area around the popular tourist destination of Carcassonne in south-western France after heavy rains caused severe flooding.

LATEST: 10 dead in south-western France after storms cause severe flooding
People stand on the road by a bridge over the Trapel river that collapsed Villegailhenc in the Aude department. Photo: AFP

CLICK HERE for the latest on the floods as death toll rises to 13

At least 10 people died when violent rainstorms turned rivers into raging torrents in southwest France on Monday, prompting some of the deadliest flooding in years, officials said.

The Interior Ministry had earlier stated that the floods had claimed 13 lives but later released an updated death toll.

The equivalent of three months of rainfall was dumped overnight in the Aude region in just a few hours, swelling rivers and flooding fields and towns, officials added.

President Emmanuel Macron's office said he would visit the affected areas “as soon as possible,” while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is also the acting interior minister, was headed to the Aude region later on Monday.

One of the victims of the extreme weather was a woman who was swept away by the waters in the town of Villardonnel while four others were found dead in the town of Villegailhenc, the prefect of the department Alain Thirion told BFM TV. Another person died in the town of Trebes near Carcassonne.

Another individual was injured as a house collapsed in Cuxac.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that he would visit the Aude department on Monday afternoon “as soon as conditions allow it”. 

Philippe also tweeted (see below) that “350 firefighters are in place. 350 more firefighters are on their way. 7 helicopters have been mobilized. I am keeping myself informed of the situation hour by hour.”

The Aude, which has been particularly affected by the period of heavy rain in the south, was placed on red alert – the very highest warning – for rain and flooding by France's national weather agency Meteo France on Monday morning.  

Red alert indicates that people in the area should practice “absolute vigilance” due to the risk of “dangerous weather of an exceptional intensity”. 


Meteo France

Firefighters in the area were called to more than 250 incidents overnight from Sunday to Monday.

The Aude river reached flood levels not seen in over 100 years, the French agency responsible for monitoring water levels, Vigicrues, said.

In the space of five hours, “between 160 and 180 mm of water fell on Carcassonne”, the equivalent of five months of rainfall, said they Aude prefect Alain Thirion.

“We have about fifteen communes in a delicate situation,” he said, adding that six are in a “worrying situation”.

The mayor of Carcassonne Gérard Larrat said he was increasingly concerned by the rising river waters.

“At 4am the height of the river was 3 metres and now (just after 10am) the height is at 5 metres,” he said.

He said the own was calm and members of the public were following instructions to stay at home.

“The schools are closed and no buses are running,” the mayor said.

Elizabeth Dale who is in Carcassonne told The Local on Monday morning: “It's been raining again and police are stationed on bridges and only allowing emergency vehicles to cross.

“It does like the water levels are dropping but who know what will happen in the next few hours. There are many people like ourselves who are stuck on the wrong side of the river.”

Several roads have been closed in the area around Carcassonne, as the map below shows.

The municipalities of Villemoustaussou, Villegailhenc, Conques, Villardonnel, Floure and Trèbes are the most affected, according to the prefect, with the water levels in Trèbes rising a whopping eight metres in five hours.

“All schools, colleges and high schools in the department of Aude are closed,” tweeted the prefecture of Aude, which advises its residents to avoid using their cars. 

Train services in the area have also been affected, according to reports in the French press.

Six other departments in south-eastern France have been placed on orange alert — the second highest warning — for heavy rains and floods. 

These are Aveyron, Herault, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Haute-Garonne and Pyrenees-Orientales. 

People in these departments are advised to be very vigilant due to the risk of dangerous weather. 

Heavy rain also brought tragedy to the south eastern Var department on Thursday. 

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.

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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.