Eight missing in south eastern France after torrential rain and floods

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This general view shows a damaged road and houses in Roquebilliere, south-eastern France, on October 3, 2020, after the waters of a swollen River Vesubie surged through the town in the Alpes-Maritimes department. - One person died and authorities listed some 20 as missing after heavy storms lashed southern France and northern Italy with hundreds of aid workers deployed to villages cut off by the deluge. (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP)

A huge rescue effort is underway in south-eastern France after torrential rain brought by Storm Alex caused devastating flooding along the French Riviera coast and inland areas. Eight people are reported missing.

Torrential rain of up to 50 centimetres (20 inches) and high winds crashed into the border area of France and Italy in the latest of a string of strong storms in recent years. Bridges collapsed and roads were left submerged, cutting off whole villages and triggering landslips, as hundreds of rescuers raced to find stranded survivors.   Storm Alex barrelled into France’s west coast on Thursday bringing powerful winds and rain across the country before moving into Italy, where regions across the north suffered an onslaught throughout Saturday.

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“I lost everything but we are alive,” said Jennyfer, 29, from Roquebilliere in France’s southern Alps.

“There must be one room left in my house,” she said after she returned following evacuation on Friday to survey the damage wrought by the Vesubie river.

This aerial view taken on October 3, 2020 shows the damage in Saint-Martin-Vesubie, southeastern France, after heavy rains and floodings hit the Alpes-Maritimes department. – Heavy rains and brutal floods have left villages cut off from the world in the Alpes Maritimes, where hundreds of fire-fighters have been mobilised on October 3, to find nine missing persons. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

An emergency spokesman in France said that around 40 people stranded on roads by the landslides had sheltered in an old train station and then been airlifted to safety.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said a policeman earlier listed as missing in the village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie north of Nice and close to the Italian border had been found safe and well. 

The army and hundreds of rescuers were deployed to search for the missing, including using helicopters to transport aid and evacuate people where possible.

AFP journalists who reached one of the worst-hit areas in the Vesubie valley saw roads that had been washed away by the waters leaving buildings teetering above the voids.

“We have actually had houses wiped out,” said Alpes-Maritimes prefect Bernard Gonzalez.

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French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who inspected the damage around the city of Nice by helicopter, said there were eight people officially designated missing. But a great many more could not be contacted, he added.

“I do not hide from you our deep concern about the final outcome of this episode,” he said, adding that the government had triggered its emergency plan for handling natural disasters.

“The situation is catastrophic in some communes,” regional lawmaker Eric Ciotti told AFP.

Authorities in the Alpes-Maritimes region had been placed on alert Friday and around 12,000 people in three valleys to the north of Nice were without power early Saturday afternoon.

“We are thunderstruck,” said Serge Franco, a resident of Roquebilliere, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Nice, as rescue helicopters hovered overhead.

“We saw the (river) Vesubie burst its banks — everything was swept away, including part of the old iron bridge,” he told AFP.

“My house is habitable but half of my land has been swept away,” said another resident, Guillaume Andre. Evacuated overnight, he had returned to see the devastation after daybreak.

In Roquebilliere, the floodwaters swept away two elderly people with their house.

“The firefighters did not have enough rope, and even with our rope we could not reach the house, so it was too late to get to them and the house was suddenly swept away,” resident Patrick Theus told AFP.

This aerial view taken on October 3, 2020 shows flood waters surging through Saint-Martin-Vesubie, southeastern France, after heavy rains and floodings hit the Alpes-Maritimes department. – Heavy rains and brutal floods have left villages cut off from the world in the Alpes Maritimes, where hundreds of fire-fighters have been mobilised on October 3, to find nine missing persons. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

The Var river was also subject to a red warning for floods as water levels rose to record levels, according to some reports.

Beaches in Nice and other coastal cities were closed, and authorities asked people to stay at home and refrain from using their cars unless in case of emergency.

Roads were left submerged by the rising waters as this image near the town of Carros shows.

Source: The local