Storms, floods subside in France

Storms and floods which ravaged southern France have begun to abate, leaving in their wake an infrastructural mess and misery.

    The Rhone reached levels not seen since the 19th century

    A quarter of a million people were without drinking water, rivers remained at

    dangerously high levels, and much road and rail transport continued

    to be disrupted.


    The state meteorological office in Marseilles on Thursday downgraded weather warnings in

    eight administrative departments stretching between the Spanish and Italian borders, after the severe weather eased, the night before. 


    But the storms claimed a new victim, with the death of a 37-year-old father-of-two who drowned in his flooded garage in the town of Bellegarde after suffering an asthmatic seizure.




    Since Monday the downpours and high winds have killed six people, forced the evacuation of tens of thousands, and shut down two nuclear power stations.


    The city of Marseille was declared a disaster zone on Wednesday as a result of torrential rain and winds of up to 150 km per hour.


    "We are getting out of the crisis, but we're not through yet ... the situation is still worrying," said Christian Fremont, state-appointed prefect of the Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur region.


    "We are getting out of the crisis, but we're not through yet ... the situation is still worrying"

    Christian Fremont,
    Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur

    Some 250,000 people around the historic town of Nimes, in the Gard, were told not to drink tap water because the flooding may have made it too contaminated to drink. Crowds queued in the town's Roman amphitheatre for handouts of bottled water.


    Officials said the Rhone overnight reached levels not seen since the 19th century, with a flow measured at 13,000 cubic metres per second. However they said with a few exceptions dykes had held firm, and river levels across the region were beginning to fall.


    Firefighters in the Herault rescued two people from a tree which they climbed to escape floodwaters after venturing out near the town of Valras. "As the firefighters are charming folks, they even rescued a horse," the local government office said.


    Stung by criticism that it failed to react quickly enough to a deadly heat wave last summer, the government responded promptly to the state of emergency in the south.


    President Jacques Chirac flew to the region on Wednesday and promised 12 million euros ($14 million) in disaster relief. 



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