French flash flood toll up to 25

Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Thursday, 17 June 2010 18:58 UK

BBC reporter Christian Fraser surveys some of the devastation

The death toll from flash floods in the south-eastern French department of Var has risen to 25.

Authorities warned that more bodies could still be found as they picked through debris swept away by Tuesday's torrential rain above the Cote D'Azur.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called it an "unprecedented catastrophe" for the region.

Some 2,000 rescue workers have been drafted in to search for survivors through debris and flooded houses.

A number of towns in the department of Var were affected, with hundreds of homes flooded.

AT THE SCENE

Christian Fraser

On the outskirts of Draguignan, there is a small field that resembles a scrapyard. Scores of vehicles are piled up on top of one another.

The picture tells a story of just how terrifying this must have been. The lucky ones managed to jump from their cars as a two-metre wave roared down the main dual carriageway. That water has now subsided, leaving behind untold wreckage and debris.

But the full scale of the damage may not be known for some days. What is striking is just how localised the damage is. There are parts of these towns untouched, while others have been turned upside down.

This was extraordinary freak weather - more than 30cm fell in the space of just a few hours. But residents say this has happened twice before here - and there are concerns that huge areas of land have been developed in this region, without much thought given to how the water escapes.

Many of those who died were trapped in their cars as waters surged through streets in the worst hit area, around the town of Draguignan.

Meteo France, the national weather service, warned of further storms on Thursday.

They said up to 40cm (15.7in) of rain had fallen since Tuesday.

The floods are the worst in the region since 1827, according to meteorologists.

"We have never seen so much rain in the month of June," Patrick Galois of Meteo France told the AFP news agency.

One BBC website reader said her son was stuck for six hours on his school bus when it was cut off by the conditions.

Another, Paul Reeves, said: "In eight years of living here we have never seen rain like it, it was a wall of rain for hours."

His house lost power for 24 hours and nearby roads were impassable, he said.

"The roads are littered with rocks, boulders, debris, cars in ditches and accidents across the region."

Survivors have been recounting how a huge wave rushed toward them on the main dual carriageway, the BBC's Christian Fraser reports from the area.

Condolences

Following the floods, water levels reached over 2m (6ft) in places, with helicopters air lifting people to safety, some from the roofs of their houses.

Rescue teams had to move 436 inmates from a prison in Draguignan after two floors flooded.

Rail and air services in the region were interrupted.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who offered condolences to the families of the victims on Wednesday, plans to visit the area early next week.

Map of Var flooding

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
France24 FRANCE: Worst floods in centuries kill dozens in France's Cote d'Azur - 52 mins ago
Telegraph French floods: rescuers search houses as death toll rises - 1 hr ago
Yahoo! UK and Ireland France floods kill 25, wreck homes - 2 hrs ago
Sydney Morning Herald Floods kill 22 in France's Cote d'Azur - 5 hrs ago
Reuters UK French storms and floods kill 19 - 10 hrs ago

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