A British holidaymaker has described being terrified as a ‘raging river’ submerged her campsite in southern France after flash flooding forced the evacuation of hundreds of people.
Heavy rain in the Gard, Ardeche and Drome areas, popular with British campers every summer, has destroyed tents and inundated streets.
Some 1,600 people were evacuated from several campsites after torrential rain swelled rivers in the Gard region, with four German children also taken to hospital with hypothermia.
Kathryn Alford, 44, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, was at Huttopia Camping Le Moulin in Saint Martin d’Ardeche with her husband and two children.
Rescuers walk past damaged bicycles on a flooded campsite in southern France as storms and heavy rain sweep the country
She said severe storms started at around 7am on Thursday with very heavy rain and constant thunder and lightning.
‘I looked out at one point and realised that the water level seemed higher than just massive puddles. Our neighbour’s bottom step had disappeared and things were floating past.’
Between storms, Ms Alford took pictures of people in canoes in the flood outside the mobile home she was staying in.
‘I was quite frightened at first as I hate storms. Some people were concerned, but the campsite were good at reassuring us.
‘I felt really sorry for the people whose tents were flooded. When things had calmed down around four-ish we went down to the village and were met by the sight of water pouring down streets from hills into a completely changed raging river.’
Rachel Buchanan, from Oxford, endured a ‘frightening’ drive through floodwater that had hit another site in the Ardeche region.
‘The level and speed of the river today was extraordinary – we woke up in about a foot of water,’ she told the BBC.
‘Driving in our camper van was very frightening as the road by the river was completely under water and waterfalls had appeared from nowhere, crashing down the gorge.’
A 70-year-old German man who was helping to supervise children at a campsite was reported missing on Thursday after he was swept away in his caravan by floodwaters, police said.
The vehicle was found ’empty and in pieces’ near the river after the man was trapped by a muddy, fast-flowing torrent when the Ardeche river burst its banks.
A car is engulfed by water in Bourg as flash floods lash the south of France after the recent heatwave gave way to a storm
Divers were taking part in the search for the missing man, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
The mayor of Bagnols, Jean-Yves Chapelet, told BFM-TV many Dutch tourists were among the 350 campers evacuated there. A group of 136 children and youths from the German city of Leverkusen were reported safe.
‘The situation is extremely perilous,’ said a spokesman for the emergency services in the town of Bagnols-sur-Ceze, north of Avignon, where the drama happened.
‘A German pensioner remains missing after being swept away. Everything is being done to try and find him, with waterways being searched where possible. Five campsites in the area have been evacuated.’
The Gard is hugely popular with British holidaymakers in August, while many others from the UK have retired to the area, or have second homes there.
The spokesman said: ‘Like everybody else, they should remain on their guard. Our advice is for them to find high ground, and to avoid unnecessary travelling’
He added: ‘Helicopters are being used in the relief operations, with valleys particularly badly hit.’
Videos posted on social media showed flood water rushing through populated areas.
‘No one has suitcases. We just have what we’re wearing,’ Rita Mauersberger, a visitor from Germany who was among the campers taking shelter in a local hall in Saint-Julien-de-Peyrolas, told France Info radio.
A flooded campsite in Saint-Julien-de-Peyrolas, southern France, where hot weather has given way to storms and floods
A rescuer stands next to a damaged tent as emergency services respond to the flooding in southern France
More than 400 firefighters and gendarmes, many sent in from other regions, helped in the evacuations, using helicopters to spot camp sites and to perform rescues.
Numerous roads in the area remained cut off as night fell. Authorities warned that the flooding would take time to recede and urged people to be vigilant.
The Europe-wide heatwave sent the mercury above 113F (45C) last weekend, intensifying wildfires that began last Friday. A sizzling heatwave across Spain has left 10 people dead in a week.
A spokesman for the Gard Prefectures said: ‘It is hoped that the flooding will reach its peak by around 11pm on Thursday.’
Authorities also said 119 children in nearby Saint-Julien-de-Peyrolas were sent to an emergency shelter as hundreds of firefighters supported by four helicopters helped in the evacuation.
Pictures showed rescuers wading through flooded campsites with damage to tents, caravans and bicycles.
Several parts of central and southeast France are on flood alert after weeks of blazing temperatures erupted in storms on Thursday, turning several campsites into mudbaths. Around 17,000 homes in the southwest and northeast were without power.
Electricity supplies have been cut in some villages, while roads have been gridlocked because of the number of people trying to get to high ground.
Storms have also hit in Germany where lightning is seen behind the Reichstag building in Berlin on Thursday night
Thunderbolts are seen over the U.S. Embassy near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as storms hit Germany on Thursday
Dark clouds hang over a field with windmills as lightning flashes through the sky over Sehnde near Hannover, Germany
A rescuer walks in front of a damaged caravan on a campsite in Saint-Julien-de-Peyrolas, southern France
Floods have swept through the south of France as the European heatwave gives way to dramatic storms
Hundreds of campers needed rescuing while others have faced power cuts amid flash flooding in the south of France