Severe flooding in south of France leaves three dead

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Aerial photo of flooding in Béziers, south of FranceImage source, AFP
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Flooding this week devastated the southern French town of Béziers

At least three people have died after floods hit the south of France, France's Interior Ministry confirmed.

About 2,000 firefighters and rescue workers were deployed to the region, where rivers burst their banks, blocked roads and caused significant damage.

It is not known if a 68-year-old woman who was swept away from her home in Béziers is among the fatalities.

Flash floods also devastated parts of northern Italy and Spain this week, where three others died.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Béziers residents have now begun to clean up and take stock of the damage

In a statement, the French interior ministry said the heavy rain was now moving down towards northern Corsica.

"Over the past three days, particularly severe storms have hit the south of France, causing three deaths and serious damage to the region," the French Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"The rain continues and is now affecting the eastern coast of Haute-Corse. Everyone must remain vigilant."

The town of Béziers saw 198mm (nearly 8in) of rain - or about two months' average rainfall - in just six hours on Wednesday morning.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Roads across the south of France were blocked

According to local media, the woman who was swept away by the floods in the town was found unconscious in a vineyard, about 100m (330ft) away. She was then taken by helicopter to hospital in Montpellier.

Dramatic images posted on social media showed cars submerged as the waters of the River Orb rose to dangerous levels.

In Hérault, forecasters said 240mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period - a 50-year record. Local prefect Jacques Witkowski told reporters that shelter had been given to more than 1,000 people whose homes had been flooded.

Devastation across southern Europe

The heavy floods this week also killed at least two people in northern Italy, and one person in northern Spain.

One of those who died in Italy was a 52-year-old taxi driver called Fabrizio Torre, who was driving a customer from Genoa airport to a golf club when his signal disappeared. In his last call to colleagues, he described seeing water everywhere.

The other man who died was 81 years old. He was killed when his car overturned in Turin province.

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The Italian village of Castelletto d'Orba was hit by a deluge of river water and mud

The north-east Spanish region of Catalonia also suffered its second period of torrential rain in two months.

Streams became raging torrents, and a 75-year-old man who tried to move his car in the early hours of Wednesday was caught up in the flood at Arenys de Munt. A neighbour said the street had turned into a river and the man was swept away. His body was found on a beach hours later.

A mother aged about 70 and her 40-year-old son were in their prefabricated bungalow at Vilaverd, a village north of Tarragona, when the River Francolí burst its banks and washed the building away.

Three other people are being treated as missing, including two who were in a car when it was hit by the flood.

Police found an empty car in the flooded River Francolí on Wednesday and were trying to find out if it belonged to the missing pair.

The area around Tarragona was among the worst affected. The roof of the baroque church at Savallà del Comtat caved in.

A seven-year-old girl was among three people hurt when torrential rain swamped a campsite near Barcelona.