French Riviera hit by floods

Hyeres, France -

Two people were killed on Sunday and more than 150 had to be airlifted to safety after “historic” floods struck south-eastern France, local authorities said.

A road is covered by floodwaters after heavy rainfall and the overflow of the Gapeau river in Hyeres, France, on January 19, 2014. Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat. Credit: AFP

A third man disappeared while out on his boat and 4 000 homes have been left without power after the inundations in the department of Var, they said.

Local official Laurent Cayrel said one of the victims, a 73-year-old man, died in his basement, while the other was swept away in his car.

“The situation is very worrying, and it's not going to get any better tonight (Sunday),” he said, adding that there had been “record rainfall”.

In the town of Hyeres, mayor Jacques Politi spoke of “a historic flood”.

Var, which lies on the stretch of Mediterranean coast known as the Riviera popular with tourists, is known for its sunny climate.

But with forecasts of more rain overnight, Cayrel urged “the greatest vigilance”.

Eight emergency helicopters would be deployed throughout the night, with 500 fire officers and 200 police on duty.

By late on Sunday, 155 people had been airlifted from the worst-hit areas and efforts to evacuate residents by boat were continuing.

One local resident told how from her home she saw a huge wave sweep her empty car away before she was evacuated by helicopter with her five-year-old daughter.

“It was really staggering,” she said. “We had called the fire brigade who told us to move the furniture upstairs... We had very little time, the house flooded very quickly.”

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will travel to the affected area early on Monday, his office said.

Late on Sunday, authorities issued a separate flood alert for the river Rhone, which runs through south-eastern France.

In an interview in a local paper on Monday, Ayrault said that a natural catastrophe announcement would soon be issued, making it easier for those affected to make insurance claims. - Sapa-AFP