Monday, November 29, 1999

French storms and floods kill 19, 7 missing

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Flash floods caused by torrential rain killed 19 people and left seven missing near France's Mediterranean coast, an official said on Wednesday, after the worst downpours the region has seen since 1827.More than 350 mm (14 inches) of rain fell on the Var department in southern France in a few hours on Tuesday.The sub-prefect for the region said 19 people had died and seven others were missing.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."Draguignan was the worst-hit town, with hundreds of vehicles swept away and several neighbourhoods under water," the local prefect Hugues Parant said.Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said about 10 people were missing and he feared the death toll could rise.Television pictures showed scores of stranded people packed on the raised terrace of a 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.Meteo France, which said the region had not seen floods like this since 1827, warned of more storms on Wednesday night.In February, a ferocious storm and surging tide killed 53 people in southwestern France.(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris; writing by Tom Heneghan, Crispian Balmer and John Irish; editing by Janet Lawrence)

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