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.
— Météo Pyrénées (@Meteo_Pyrenees) October 15, 2018
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.”
— softlabhennef (@noXforU) October 15, 2018
#Aude : 350 sapeurs-pompiers sont en place. 350 autres sapeurs-pompiers sont en cours d’acheminement. 7 hélicoptères sont mobilisés. Je me tiens informé heure par heure de la situation.
— Edouard Philippe (@EPhilippePM) October 15, 2018
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”.
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.
[CARTO] Nombreux axes fermés dans l'#Aude, notamment au nord et à l'est de #Carcassonne, #bouchons aux abords, ne prenez pas la route, laissez la #priorité aux #secours. (carto inforoute11) #msgu #msgu pic.twitter.com/5365HJpx5W
— traficalert+ spécial #msgu (@trafic_msgu) October 15, 2018
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.
— Ouest-France (@OuestFrance) October 15, 2018
“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.
?Fortes #inondations aux alentours de Carcassonne dans l'#Aude. L'eau atteint plusieurs mètres dans certains villages. Un premier bilan de 6 morts vient d’être annoncé.
☎️Une cellule d'information est ouverte au 04 68 10 29 00.
Vidéo: Météo Express#StormHour #météo pic.twitter.com/GThLvkRvoq
— Charles Baudry (@CharlesBaudry) October 15, 2018
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.