16 Dead, 18 Missing as Storms Hit Southern France

September 10, 2002

Thunderstorms of unprecedented intensity struck Southern France Sunday night and Monday, causing widespread flooding and knocking out road and rail transportation throughout the region. 16 people were killed as a direct result of the deluge, and another 18 are reported missing.

The deluge, which dumped as much as 600 liters of water per square meter in some areas in 24 hours – as much rain as Paris gets in a year (and Paris is not dry) were centered west of the Rhone River in the Departments of the Gard, Vaucluse and the Herault. The historic cities in the area, including Nimes, Avignon, Uzes and Ales were covered by up to two meters (more than 6 feet) of water, as creeks, rivers and streams overflowed their banks. Despite advance warnings from the French Weather Service, many residents were trapped by the sudden inundation, and had to be rescued by firemen, police and army units.

Road and rail transportation throughout the entire region was brought to a standstill, as the water washed out roads, and covered autoroutes in the region with over a foot of water in many places. Residents were warned not to travel, and highways as far north as Lyon were closed to traffic. Highspeed TGV service was halted at Marseilles.

As of Tuesday morning the water began to subside. Rescue workers and residents began cleaning up the destruction. In addition to the damage to the region’s infrastructure many homes and factories have been destroyed. Agricultural losses are in then millions. No damage estimates have been released as yet, but the French government announced that the entire region had been declared a disaster area, and released €10 million ($9.82 million) in funds to aid rescue efforts.

The storms, the worst to hit the region in over 50 years, raised new questions about the potential of newly built roads, intensive agricultural activities and the development of flood plains to increase the amount of damages they cause.

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