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Unseasonal storms close Lourdes holy shrine

AFP

Unseasonal stormy weather continued to batter France on Thursday, devastating the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes while flash floods in the country’s southwest claimed the lives of three people.

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Unseasonal stormy weather continued across France on Thursday, dumping rain over huge stretches of the country, as flash floods in the southwest claimed the lives of three people.

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A 70-year-old woman was killed on Wednesday after she was swept away by surging waters as she got out of her submerged car in the town of Saint-Béat, just southwest of Lourdes, according to local authorities. The woman and her husband had been evacuated from their home, but had decided to go back to collect their personal belongings when they were trapped by the flooding. Her husband was rescued by firefighters.

The tragedy was followed hours later by the death of a 75-year-old man, who was also swept away by high waters in the town of Luz-Saint-Saveur in the Pyrénées, after heavy rain swelled a local stream into a raging torrent.

A third victim was found early Thursday morning in the middle of a flooded cornfield in the Landes region, where she had drowned in her car.

Lourdes shrine closed

The Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes has been left devastated for the second time in less than a year by the Gave de Pau, the river that flows through the town, bursting its banks.

Thousands of tourists have had to be evacuated from their inundated hotels and visits to the town's celebrated grotto, underground basilica and other religious sites have been suspended since Tuesday.

The damage could force the site to remain closed to visitors for months. Lourdes is visited by some six million people every year with the numbers in July and August reaching a peak of up to 40,000 every day.

Thousands evacuated

The southwest has been in the grip of storms since Tuesday, with more than 2,000 people evacuated from their homes, some of them by helicopter.

Because of the severe weather, the country’s main weather service, France Météo, put much of the northeast and two regional departments in the southwest on “orange alert” on Thursday, the second highest warning level.

Residents have been advised to act with caution, and avoid driving or walking in flooded areas. According to France Météo’s forecast, violent storms are expected to continue in the northeast into Thursday afternoon, or the early evening.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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