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6.12.03

Flooding in Arles

This has been a strange year of harsh weather in France. There has been bad flooding across southern France over the past week or so, including in the historical town of Arles (see my posts on the excavation of a 4th-century basilica there on November 17 and November 20). The dike that protected Arles from the rising waters of the Rhône River gave way on Thursday, and a report (Thousands of firemen pump water out of Arles, December 6) from Reuters describes the city as "submerged." Several thousand firemen, policemen, and soldiers are working in the area to rescue and help the 10,000 affected people. In another article (Flooding displaces prisoners, December 6), Thierry Boinet of the Associated Press reports that "masked elite police officers ferried nearly 200 high-risk inmates, including convicted terrorists, to safety Friday from a flooded prison" in Arles. He also states that "much of the town of Arles was under 3 feet of water." Prisoners had already been moved to the second floor and then were carried across a half-mile of water in rubber boats by police.

The estimated 16 million cubic meters of flood water in Arles will take as long as 10 days of pumping to remove, and it has probably caused between 150 million and 200 million euros ($180 million to $240 million) in damage. Flooding is said to be the worst in the northern parts of Arles, but the historical center of the town—where the Roman arena and theater, the recently cleaned and restored Church of St. Trophime, and the site of the basilica excavation are located—is very close to the banks of the Rhône. Obviously, the loss of lives and homes are the first priority right now, but the possible cultural losses add to the devastation. Photographs taken not far from the train station, just to the north of the Roman arena, showed people getting around on boats.

French authorities are also worried that the Loire River may crest this weekend between Orléans and Angers.

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