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Crowds flock to French Atlantic coast for ‘tide of the century’

FRANCE 24 screen grab

Tourists have flocked to the rugged coast of Brittany and the legendary Mont Saint-Michel to witness a month of exceptionally large spring tides.

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The spectacle kicked off in style shortly after 9am on Saturday as the tide on France’s western coast reached a coefficient of 117 on a scale of 120.

Thousands of people took advantage of the school winter break to converge on observation spots and witness the spectacularly high water levels.

Among the most popular draws were spots along the coast of Brittany and the world-famous Mont Saint-Michel, the Norman hillock that resumes its island form when tides come in.

Each year, police and fire brigades line the beaches beneath the Mont Saint-Michel to warn tourists about the hazard caused by high tides, with waters rising by a staggering 14 metres.

"It's quite simply fabulous," enthused one woman taking in the scene of surging ocean water with the mount’s 11th-century abbey looming overhead. "It's the Mont as it was in the beginning –- surrounded by water."

Saturday’s high tide was the first in nearly a month of remarkable water surges due to culminate on March 20 and 21 with tidal coefficients of 118 on 119 respectively.

The second day has been touted as "the tide of the century" -- a considerable misnomer, since the ocean rises to that peak level every 18 years.

But the hyperbole in naming the biggest of the approaching spring tides also reflects the enthusiasm people are demonstrating in rushing to the coast to watch the natural spectacle on offer.

"All the hotels on Mont Saint-Michel are booked full for the month of March, and we're expecting even more people than that," said local merchant Emmanuel Conon, pleased at the boost in business the tidal attraction is expected to produce.

Local authorities are hoping the phenomenon will not be marred by the enormous ocean swells that battered beaches and cliffs last winter, washing away swathes of France’s Atlantic coastline.

While no flooding has been reported so far, towns along the coast have been stocking up on sand bags in preparation for possible storm waves.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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