Roman Catholic Shrine of Lourdes inundated by floodwater
British pilgrims ferried to safety after Biblical-style flood
British pilgrims gathering at the Roman Catholic shrine of Lourdes in France this weekend quickly tuned to prayers for their own safety as the area became inundated with floodwater. French meteorologists were adamant in declaring the flooding as the worst in the past 25 years.
The Gave de Pau River which runs through Lourdes burst its banks following days of heavy rain, causing the widespread flooding. Meteorologists warn that the rain is set to continue until well into next week, meaning the situation could get even worse.
Among the areas heaviest hit is the grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared before a local girl in 1858. The grotto is now covered by around three feet of water.
"The space in front of the grotto is entirely flooded, with the altar under water. There are torrents of mud. The damage will cost thousands," Thierry Castillo, the custodian of the Lourdes sanctuary says.
"It's a very worrying situation - everybody has been told to evacuate and get on to higher ground," English tour guide Phil Lomas says. He noted that there were "numerous British parties on pilgrimage.
"They are getting out along with everyone else - there are real safety concerns here, especially for those in wheelchairs, or who are otherwise disabled," Lomas added.
"Hotels are all being cleared out, although some people are staying in higher floors because it's easy for them to wait up there. The police and other emergency services are leading the evacuation, along with priests and other clergy."
Lomas confirms that the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the most revered building in Lourdes, remains undamaged.
Set on high ground, the Basilica towered above the ever-deepening water around it.
The Gave de Pau River which runs through Lourdes burst its banks following days of heavy rain, causing the widespread flooding.
Meteorologists warn that the rain is set to continue until well into next week, meaning the situation could get even worse.
The Lourdes sanctuary, which hosts 22 places of worship, was founded after 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have witnessed a series of visions of Mary in a cave.
People suffering illness or disability have since travelled there and claim to have been miraculously cured by the town's spring water.
Some six million people now visit Lourdes, which is in the foothill of the Pyrenees, every year - making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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