COMMUNES ravaged by floodwaters are to declared natural disaster catastrophe naturelle zones after what was thought to be nearly five months’ rain fell in a few hours in Hérault – causing the river Lez to burst its banks, flooding parts of the centre of Montpellier.
As the clear-up started this morning and roads and rail routes started to reopen, Météo France downgraded the red alert for Hérault to orange.
The storm had left thousands of people stranded, with Hérault prefecture saying it had helped find accommodation for 4,000 people overnight – including 1,000 pupils forced to sleep in their schools as they could not get home and hundreds of passengers spending the night on trains after Béziers and Montpellier stations were shut.
No one is thought to have died in the floods, which come just 10 days after storms claimed the lives of four people in Lamalou-les-Bains and one in Aveyron.
Many roads out of Montpellier were shut, especially in the south and east, with the A9 motorway being “difficult”. All public transport was halted and SNCF said traffic between Nîmes and Narbonne had been stopped.
The airport access road was also flooded and flights from Gatwick, Leeds, Orly and Nantes were diverted.
While downgrading Hérault to orange alert, Météo France has also kept the neighbouring departments of Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales, Gard, Aveyron and Lozère on orange with risks of flooding from the Lez and Orb in Hérault, the Vidourle in Gard, the Cesse and Dourdou-Sorgue-Rance in Aude and the Haut-Tarn in Lozère.
Around 60 communes were left under layers of mud with roads ripped open and vehicles swept away by floodwaters from rivers unable to cope with the amount of rain that was falling – with a record 30cm in three hours – and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said they would be declared natural disaster zones tomorrow to help with insurance claims.
Communes such as Saint-Pargoire, Pauhlan, Plaissan, Gignac, Lunel, Capestang, Crès, Montagnac, Saint-Pons-de-Mauchiens, Aniane and Saint-Bauzille-de-la-Sylve were badly affected with floods reaching three or four feet.
Schools are shut at Sète, and school buses are cancelled in Montpellier Nord-Ouest, Montpellier Mauguio, Lunellois and Collège de Sommières.