LATEST: Residents in southern France urged to stay home amid more torrential rain and floods

Parts of the south of France were placed on alert for flooding on Monday, after torrential rain hit the region over the weekend. Schools in three départements have closed with parents told to collect their children.

A driver looks at the water flooding a road in the Gard department on September 14th.
A driver looks at the water flooding a road in the Gard department on September 14th. Illustration photo: Sylvain THOMAS / AFP.

France’s weather agency, Météo France, issued a warning for six départements on Monday. The Bouches-du-Rhône département was on red alert for heavy rain and flooding from 12pm to 6pm, while Vaucluse, Var, Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and Haute-Corse on the island of Corsica were all on orange alert from Monday morning, with the disruption set to last until 9pm.

Speaking to journalists on Monday afternoon, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the worst downpours, which were initially expected at around 1pm, would most likely arrive later in the afternoon.

“We’ve seen, and could still see, the equivalent of several months’ worth of rainfall in the south of France, and clearly the fact the ground is already waterlogged, because it’s already rained, can lead us to believe there will be floods,” he said.

Darmanin said the fire service were ready to intervene, along with helicopters and divers, to protect the population. But he added that there were certain safety measures everybody should adopt: “Don’t go near watercourses, or near the sea; don’t go outside, or delay going out; go upstairs if the area begins to flood, and don’t go near areas where there are electrical installations.”

Between 80 and 120mm of rain was expected to fall throughout the region on Monday, rising to between 150 and 180mm in the eastern part of Bouches-du-Rhône, and even up to 240mm in some areas.

“This turbulent weather could be accompanied by hail and strong gusts of wing,” Météo France wrote.

Educational authorities in Marseille, located in Bouches-du-Rhône on the Mediterranean coast, asked families not to send their children to school on Monday. “Schools will remain open in a reduced capacity to take in those who have no other solution,” the city’s mayor Benoît Payan tweeted.

Later in the morning, the département announced that all schools would close, and invited parents to collect their children, adding that those who could not be picked up would be able to remain in school.

The Var and Alpes-Maritimes départments followed suit by closing schools. “Parents are invited to pick up their children from schools (from pre-school to university) and nurseries across the whole département by noon,” the Var prefecture said in a statement.

Residents were being asked to stay at home, not to evacuate without instruction from the authorities, and not to use their basements.

Aix-Marseille University also announced on Monday morning that the day’s in-person classes would be cancelled due to the bad weather being forecast.

The Marseille Public University Hospital System meanwhile has asked patients to get in touch and reschedule non-urgent consultations, and the Les Terrasses du port shopping centre closed its doors for the day at 1pm.

The weather alert comes after a weekend of torrential downpours in the region. Two months’ worth of rain fell in Marseille on Sunday night and into Monday morning, according to France Bleu. Several streets were flooded, including around the city’s Vieux-Port area, and trains between Marseille and Avignon, Briançon, and Côte d’Azur, were suspended.

According to La Provence, one person died in an accident on the A7 motorway in the region on Monday morning.

Just along the coast to the west, in the Gard département, 3,000 households found themselves with no electricity on Sunday, because of damage caused by heavy rain and fallen trees.

Periods of heavy rainfall are common at this time of year in the south of France, where they are referred to as épisodes cévenols (Cévennes episodes). During these periods, “the Mediterranean Sea is very warm so the water evaporates easily and accumulates in the atmosphere, and when there is atmospheric circulation which brings this water in towards the land, and the Cévennes mountain range, this air cools down and a lot of water falls,” climatologist Françoise Vimeux explained to The Local earlier this year.

The weekend saw unusual levels rain across the country, with 22 départements on orange alert on Sunday morning. The rain caused many of the events organised for Paris’s “sleepless night” to be cancelled, while the west coast was particularly affected. A record 98.3mm of rain fell in Nantes over 24 hours, according to Météo France. Monday’s weather was forecast to be much more calm outside of the south of France.

If you find yourself in danger due to weather disturbances, call 112 to reach the emergency services.

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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.