Videos: One missing as flash floods batter south of France

One person is missing and cars and vehicles have been dragged away after flash flooding and torrential rain hit the south of France last night (Saturday September 19).

20 September 2020
Emergency services in inflatable boats as flooding hits. VIDEOS: One missing as flash floods batter south of FranceEmergency services worked throughout the night and into this morning as flash floods hit the area with little warning
By Hannah Thompson

UPDATE: The car of the first missing person, a 64-year old carer, has been found, empty and crushed; she has not yet been found. A second person is also missing, a male trail runner who was running in the mountains at the time of the disaster.

Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin are visiting the stricken area today (Sunday September 20). Violent storms and extremely heavy rain caused river banks to burst and flash floods to rise unexpectedly quickly.

One person is missing in the Gard (Occitanie) after their car was carried away by water from the River Hérault near the commune of Saint-André-de-Majencoules.

More than 400mm of rain - the equivalent of 400 litres of rain per metre square - fell in just a few hours.

Video and photos taken by locals in the area show water rising and breaking riverbanks in seconds. In Anduze (Gard), the water was so strong that it carried away a van and caused severe flooding in the village centre.

Restaurants and businesses, as well as homes, have been ruined as water rose to waist-height on the ground floor (warning: There is some strong language in French in the video below).

Firefighters have been using dinghies and helicopters to attend hundreds of emergency rescue calls, and have called on residents to stay on higher floors at home to avoid the potential danger of being carried away by water.

Forecaster Météo France has now lifted the red and orange alerts that had been in effect in the area.

Local authorities said: “The situation is developing positively for most of the waterways in the department [but] certain communes, especially Val d'Aigoual and Saint-André-de-Majencoules, will be provided with [separate] drinking water.”


Weather episode

The violent weather has been attributed to what is known as an “épisode cévenol”. The phenomenon gets its name from the Cévennes area, north of the Hérault and the Gard, and south of Lozère.

An “épisode cévenol” refers to a very specific kind of storm and rainfall event seen in this part of France, explained Alix Roumagnac, expert in hydroelectrics, speaking to news service FranceInfo.

He said: “The driving force of an ‘épisode cévenol’ is a weather depression. The one that is happening now is bringing heat from Portugal, and entered slightly into the Iberian peninsula, then rose up from the Mediterranean with very hot and humid air.

“This hot and humid air rises into the Cévennes, causing very, very strong rain. That is what happened this morning [Sunday September 20].”

Mr Roumagnac said that the phenomenon was becoming more common due to rising temperatures and the milder temperatures seen in winter and spring.

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