New weather alerts in four French départements after record-breaking storms

New weather alerts in four French départements after record-breaking storms
Record rainfall was recorded in parts of the Gard, southern France, on Tuesday, September 14th, 2021, as storms battered the area. Photo: Sylvain Thomas / AFP
Four départements in the south of France are on orange weather alert for storms, a day after record rainfall led to localised flooding.

Residents in the badly affected Gard département are braced for more bad weather on Wednesday, with the department remaining on orange alert for storms, heavy rain and flooding, less than 24 hours after forecasters briefly placed it on the highest red alert.

As well as Gard, residents in Hérault, Drôme, and Ardèche, are warned to be aware of heavy storms that could see up to 120mm of rainfall in some areas in a short period of time. Forecasters said the storms could also bring hail and strong winds.

Early on Wednesday, overnight weather alerts in four other département in the south of the country – Allier, Aveyron, Cantal, and Puy-de-Dôme – were taken down, but experts at Météo France did not rule out the possibility of extending orange storm alerts, its second highest warning level, to neighbouring areas throughout the day.

Two-and-a-half months of rain fell in just a few hours in the Gard on Tuesday, September 14th, flooding streets and homes in more than 60 communes. The village of Saint-Dionizy  recorded 244mm of rain in just three hours, according to Météo France – well beyond the previous record, of 216.4 mm in Saint-Martial on September 19, 2020. 

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“Nothing foreshadowed an event of such magnitude,” Météo-France’s Marc Pontaud said on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has visited the area, warned: “We are particularly vigilant in the Hérault and the Gard, where we fear other episodes of this type in the hours and days to come.”

He also promised that the formal process towards declaring a ‘catastrophe naturelle’ to release vital help for affected communes would begin in the next few days.

Meanwhile, concern is mounting for one person, who has not been found after falling into the river Rhôny in the town of Aimargues, according to the Gard prefecture, while two others who had been reported missing from the homes in Uchaud and Aigues-Vives have been found.

“The person was hanging on to debris and the rescuers heard him, then the contact was broken”, a spokesperson for local firefighters told AFP early on Wednesday.

One other person was slightly injured in a lightning strike, but no other victims have been reported.

Schools in the Gard remained closed on Wednesday, while rail travel through the department is expected to be disrupted until the weekend. The A9 motorway reopened yesterday evening, after being closed for several hours due to flooding. About 30 trapped motorists had to be rescued by helicopter as the waters rose.

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