Deadly storm barrels across France, Italy
Two people died and 30 others were missing on Saturday after storms lashed southern France and northern Italy, with roads and bridges damaged or destroyed and thousands left without power.
Torrential rain of up to 50 centimetres (20 inches) and high winds crashed into the border area between the two countries in the latest in a string of strong storms in recent years.
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.
Switzerland was also battered with record rainfall in some areas and powerful gusts, forcing the closure of roads and mountains.
A volunteer firefighter died in Italy’s Aosta Valley and a man was killed after his car was washed away in the river Sesia, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) further east.
Eight people were recorded missing around the French city of Nice and 22 more in Italian border areas.
Dozens of firefighters were trying to reach one Italian village by train after the road was shut.
In France, the army and hundreds of rescuers have been deployed to search for the missing, including using helicopters to bring aid and evacuate people where possible.
But rescue efforts have been hampered after sections of roads collapsed.
“You can also see a few houses that are perched above the void because the riverbed has washed away the road,” a fire brigade spokesman said.
“There must be one room left in my house,” said a 29-year-old woman named Jennyfer from Roquebilliere in the southern Alps who returned to her chalet near the Vesubie river on Saturday after being evacuated the day before.
“I lost everything but we are alive,” she said after discovering what remained of her accommodation owned by her employer, electricity company EDF.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who inspected the damage around Nice by helicopter, said there were eight people officially designated missing but a great many more who were out of contact.
“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 southern 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. We saw the (river) Vesubie burst its banks — everything was swept away, including part of the old iron bridge,” Roquebilliere resident Serge Franco, a resident of Roquebilliere, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Nice, told AFP as rescue helicopters hovered overhead.
“My house is habitable but half of my land has been swept away,” said another resident, Guillaume Andre, who was evacuated overnight but returned to see the devastation after daybreak.
Meanwhile, the Italian city of Venice was expecting to be submerged by an occasional tidal peak known as “acqua alta” but a network of 78 artificial dykes managed to hold the waters back.
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