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In Southwest France, Flash Floods Turn Deadly


Flooding in the south of France has killed at least 11 people. Heavy rain transformed rivers into raging torrents that wiped out roads and bridges, even swept people from their houses in the middle of the night. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.



ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Flying in a helicopter over the Aude River in southeastern France, a reporter from BFMTV points out villages, roads and fields underwater. You can see cars and trucks floating like toys in a bath. During the night Sunday to Monday, three months of rain fell in only a couple hours, catching people off guard when most had already gone to bed. An 88-year-old nun was swept from her ground-floor room when the floodwaters crashed through the convent's front door. Her furniture was carried out onto a veranda. The nun's body was later found in the trees outside.


ELISE BROQUANTE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Ninety-nine-year-old Elise Broquante was spared such a fate because her bedroom is on the second floor. She spoke on French television.


BROQUANTE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I wanted to come downstairs. But water was coming up the staircase, so I just went back to bed" she said. "What else could I do?"


BROQUANTE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Broquante says never in her life has she seen flooding like this.

The French prime minister visited the devastated villages Monday. President Emmanuel Macron heads down today. As the waters and fear recede, anger is rising.


BEARDSLEY: "We weren't given any warning," says this group of people meeting with a local mayor. "You couldn't have maybe given us a heads up at 2 a.m. that we needed to evacuate?"

Bouts of heavy rain in areas of higher elevation surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are a regular fall phenomenon. The downpours are caused by hot, moist air pushed up from the Mediterranean and meeting colder air from the north. But the frequency and intensity of these rains is increasing. Eric Menassi is the mayor of Trebes, which lost six people. He says they did everything they could.

ERIC MENASSI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The rainfall was three times what was predicted" he says. "And the sudden violence of these floodwaters was terrifying. We are dealing with extreme situations brought on by climate change," says Menassi. "And no one can be sufficiently prepared."

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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