Hundreds of Roman Catholic pilgrims, some sick and disabled, were evacuated from the shrine of Lourdes in France, as the Gave de Pau River overflowed from days of rain.
Lourdes is a famous shrine in France, where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in a grotto in 1858. The Catholic church recognizes 67 miracles linked to the shrine. Last year more than six million visitors traveled to Lourdes, with many disabled or sick people praying for a cure.
Excessive rain in the area caused the Gave de Pau river to flood its banks and officials had to close most of the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes on Saturday. At least 500 pilgrims were in need of evacuation by the Red Cross and regional authorities provided food and shelter.
On Saturday a local official said, “We are evacuating all the hotels in the lower town. We’ve already brought out 270 and another 236 remain.”
Buses were laid on to ferry pilgrims from the hotels to a sports complex and conference center in the town. Two campsites also had to be evacuated and several roads have been closed in the center of Lourdes.
In front of the grotto, the water was around one meter deep, and in Avenue du Paradis, where most of the pilgrim hotels are located, water reached around 80 centimeters. Officials are saying that this is the worst flooding in 25 years.
The river itself was three meters above its normal level on Saturday morning, as forecasts stated that the rain, which has been falling non-stop since Thursday, would continue until Sunday.
Only the basilica, which is built on higher ground, was still accessible.
In the area, 8,000 homes were without electricity after strong winds brought down power lines on Thursday and Friday.
Hotel owner Pierre Barrere said, “I’ve seen nothing like it in 40 years.”
Visits to Lourdes have been temporarily suspended.
View of Lourdes in better times: