Three more bodies found as French villages dig out from flooding

Three more bodies found as French villages dig out from flooding
Heavy rains and floods buried houses in mud and saw cars stuck in the riverbed in Breil-sur-Roya, a French village close to the Italian border. Photo: AFP
Rescue workers on Monday found the bodies of three more victims of intense flooding that hammered southeast France over the weekend, with the toll expected to rise further as searches continue for survivors.

Four deaths have now been confirmed in France and two in Italy, where authorities are trying to determine if a third death, of a man found near the French border, was linked to the floods.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated after storms dumped huge amounts of rain that turned streams into churning torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges in the French Alps north of Nice.

Authorities said eight people were still listed as missing on Monday, in many cases after witnesses reported seeing them carried away by floodwaters, while 13 others have not been heard from since Friday.

“I've lost everything. My house was engulfed by the Vesubie river,” said Alain Brucy, 63, as trucks carrying water, baby food, toilet paper and other essentials arrived in Roquebilliere, a French village near the Italian border.

Residents walk past piled up cars in the French village of Breil-sur-Roya close to the Italian border. Photo: AFP

'War zone'

“We're trying to deal with this, get ourselves organised… but we're wondering how we're going to do it, and how long it will take,” said the town's deputy mayor Jacqueline Cornillon, 74.

“The priority is to evacuate those who want to leave this war zone they've been living in for the past two days,” the government's top regional official, Bernard Gonzalez, told AFP, saying some areas looked as if they had been “bombarded.”

About 400 people have been evacuated by helicopter so far, he said.

Gonzalez said four bodies found on a beach in Liguria, Italy, on Sunday most likely came from cemeteries swept away when rivers overran their banks.

“These are not recent deaths… but old corpses,” he said.

Officials have declared the region a natural disaster zone, and President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tour the area this week.

Meteorologist Luca Mercalli told the Fatto Quotidiano daily Monday that in Limone Piemonte and the Roya Valley “some 600 millimetres of rain fell in fewer than 24 hours, half the annual average rainfall in just one day.”

Residents try to remove the mud outside a shop in the wake of the floods. Photo: AFP 

'Doing what they can'

Electricity and phone service remained down across much of the region, and officials have closed off access to hikers and climbers so that mountain rescue teams can focus on the search for victims.

In the hard-hit Roya Valley, several villages remained completely cut off after roads collapsed or were torn up by the floods, or were blocked by fallen trees or rocks and other debris.

Scores of tractors have been deployed to help the villages dig out, including several brought in by French army regiments.

“They've been at it since this morning, and they're doing what they can but you see that ladder over there – that's where the bridge was washed away,” said Josiane Osanga, 78, in the village of Breil-sur-Roya.

Nearby, residents used a bow and arrow to construct a makeshift zipline for sending over medicine and other items to houses trapped on the far side of the river.

Emergency generators are also being deployed “so we can end this isolation that is very difficult to bear and that makes it much harder to organise the necessary help,” said Philippe Pradal, president of the Nice metropolitan area.

Officials were also transferring nursing home residents and hospital patients from several villages and towns.

“In Fontan, they found a generator and everyone is sharing their food” until new supplies can be brought in, said Alexandra Valetta-Ardisson, a local lawmaker.


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