Storm Alex

Death toll rises, hundreds evacuate as southern France deals with flood fall-out

This general view shows damaged buildings on the banks of the Vesubie River near Roquebilliere in southeastern France, after the river's waters rose and flooded the town on October 3, 2020.
This general view shows damaged buildings on the banks of the Vesubie River near Roquebilliere in southeastern France, after the river's waters rose and flooded the town on October 3, 2020. © AFP

Rescue workers continued to evacuate hundreds of people on Tuesday from villages hammered by flash flooding in southeast France over the weekend, with the death toll expected to rise as searches continue for survivors. This comes as the bodies of three more victims were found in the wreckage.

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Four deaths have now been confirmed in France and two in Italy, where authorities are trying to determine if a third death, of a man found near the French border, was linked to the floods.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated after storm Alex turned rivers into churning torrents that swept away cars, houses and bridges in the French Alps north of Nice.

Authorities said eight people were still listed as disappeared Monday, in many cases after witnesses reported seeing them carried away by floodwaters, including two firefighters whose vehicle fell into the water as a road collapsed.13 other people have not been heard from since Friday.

Electricity and phones out

"I've lost everything. My house, 25 metres long (80 feet), was engulfed by the Vesubie river," said Alain Brucy, 63, as trucks carrying water, baby food, toilet paper and other essentials arrived in Roquebilliere, a French village near the Italian border.

"We're trying to deal with this, get ourselves organised... but we're wondering how we're going to do it, and how long it will take," said the town's deputy mayor Jacqueline Cornillon, 74.

Emergency generators are also being deployed "so we can end this isolation that is very difficult to bear and that makes it much harder to organise the necessary help," said Philippe Pradal, president of the Nice metropolitan area.

Electricity and phone service remained down across much of the region, and officials have closed off access to hikers and climbers so that mountain rescue teams can focus on the search for victims.

6 months rainfall

In the hard-hit Roya Valley, several villages remained completely cut off after roads collapsed or were torn up by the floods, or were blocked by fallen trees or rocks and other debris.

Local weather reports said that in Limone Piemonte and the Roya Valley "some 600 millimetres of rain fell in fewer than 24 hours, half the annual average rainfall in just one day."

The Breil-sur-Roya, southeastern France after flooding from storm Alex, with tractors brought in for clean up operations, 4 October 2020
The Breil-sur-Roya, southeastern France after flooding from storm Alex, with tractors brought in for clean up operations, 4 October 2020 NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Scores of tractors have been deployed to help the villages dig out, including several brought in by French army regiments.

Officials were also transferring nursing home residents and hospital patients from several villages and towns.

'Bombarded' landscape

"The priority is to evacuate those who want to leave this war zone they've been living in for the past two days," the government's top regional official, Bernard Gonzalez, told AFP, saying some areas looked as if they had been "bombarded."

About 400 people have been evacuated by helicopter so far, he said.

The flooding has put additional stress on regions coping with the coronavirus pandemic. The governors of both Liguria and Piedmont have asked the Italian government for emergency aid.

Officials have declared the region a natural disaster zone, and President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tour the area this week.

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