Monday, November 29, 1999

French storms and floods kill 15, 12 missing

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Flash floods caused by torrential rain killed 15 people and left 12 missing near France's Mediterranean coast, local officials said on Wednesday.More than 350 mm (14 inches) of rain fell on the Var department in southern France in a few hours on Tuesday."Draguignan was the worst-hit town, with hundreds of vehicles swept away and several neighbourhoods under water," the local prefect Hugues Parant told France Bleu Provence radio. He said the number of casualties could rise.More than 1,000 people found refuge in schools and other buildings after their homes were swamped. Helicopters flew over 450 rescue missions and some 100,000 households were without electricity.Television pictures showed scores of stranded people packed on the raised terrace of one holiday camp, with surrounding land and low-lying buildings submerged under muddy water.Locals said people were surprised by the speed at which the waters rose, turning streets into torrents and carrying away cars as if they were toys."It was dramatic," said Draguignan mayor Max Piselli. "The town is in a terrible state, with rocks, stones, mud and cars blocking the roads."The airport in Toulon, closed late on Tuesday because its runways were flooded, reopened on Wednesday morning. Train services along the coast were expected to return to normal on Thursday, railway officials said.In February, a ferocious storm and surging tide killed 53 people in southwestern France.(Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet, writing by Tom Heneghan and Crispian Balmer)

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