Hollande promises speedy flood aid

But he denies a miracle is needed at Lourdes, saying ‘human willpower will let us achieve this result’

AS THE floodwaters finally receded from torrent-hit towns and villages in the south-west, President Holland visited several of the worst-hit sites to see what aid could be given to residents.

Alongside him, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that the declaration of a “natural disaster” would be made before the end of next week and this would allow for insurance claims to be processed quicker and for rebuilding work to start quickly.

The storms and floods claimed the lives of three people, two in Hautes-Pyrénées on Wednesday and a 52-year-old woman in Landes yesterday. Rescue teams had tried to reach the woman who had phoned for help as the waters rose around her car.

However, the Landes prefect said she had driven on to a road that had been closed because of flood danger and he added that the majority of call-outs for rescue services were from people who had ignored road closures.

President Hollande saw for himself the destruction that the floods had caused at Lourdes, where pilgrimages have been halted and there are fears that the site will be closed for the entire summer – losing a large part of its six million visitors.

The Sanctuaries have asked for donations to help with clean-up and rebuilding work, which could run into “several million euros”. Sainte-Bernadette church and the underground Saint Pie X basilica were devastated in the floods and the town is covered with a layer of 40cm of mud and up to 1.5m. in areas.

Hollande said he wanted to show the solidarity of the government and see what help it could give. “All will be done so that the Sanctuaries can be reopened as quickly as possible.”

Asked if he was there to provide a miracle, he replied: “I’m not going to pronounce on miracles, but, for now, it is human willpower that will let us achieve this result.”

He and Mr Valls also visited the village of Saint-Béat where the roads had been damaged by 30cm of water. He said they would do everything possible to get everything back ready in time for the village’s tourist season.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said they would perhaps need to rethink part of the route of this year’s Tour in view of the flood damage. There are two sectors in the Pyrenees: the eighth stage to Ax-3 Domaines and the next day’s ninth stage from Saint-Girons (Ariège) to Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hautes-Pyrénées).

However, he said that damage to roads at Saint-Béat and Luchon would be “marginal” for sporting purposes and the vital areas were not affected. He added that the areas hit by the floods were an integral part of the Tour’s history and they wanted to show support.
Photo: Présidence de la République