Deadly floods hit France, Italy; sweep coffins over border

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This aerial view provided Sunday Oct.4, 2020 by the Alpes Maritimes region fire brigade show a house keeping a fragile balance on a hill while a rive floods Saturday Oct.3. 2020 near La Vesubie, southern France. French authorities deployed about 1,000 firefighters, four military helicopters and troops to search for at least eight people who were missing after devastating floods hit a mountainous border region with Italy, where at least four people were killed. (SDIS 06 via AP)

PARIS – Three more bodies were discovered Monday on the French side of the border with Italy after severe mountain flooding ravaged parts of both countries, leaving at least 12 dead. Hundreds of rescue workers were searching for up to 20 other people still missing.

Flooding devastated mountainous areas in France’s southeastern Alpes-Maritimes region and Italy’s northwestern regions of Liguria and Piedmont after a storm swept on Friday and Saturday.

Many of the identities of the dead were as murky as the churning waters that swept them away.

The prefect of France's Alpes-Maritimes region told the Nice Matin newspaper that some bodies found in Italy were apparently corpses from coffins that had been swept across the border by the raging floodwaters.

Bernard Gonzalez said as of Monday afternoon, two more bodies had been found in the region after another was found Sunday in the hard-hit town of Saint-Martin-Vesubie. Another body was later found in the same town, he said later, bringing the total on the French side to four.

In Italy, a woman’s body was discovered Monday in the Mediterranean Sea by the Ligurian province of Imperia. Five other bodies, all men, were found Sunday in the sea near San Remo, on the beach in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia and along the Imperia coast.

Gonzalez said he had been in touch with Italian colleagues about bodies found on beaches of Liguria.

“The bodies found correspond to decomposing cadavers from our side ... but it's most likely the bodies came from cemeteries swept away by the water,” the paper quoted him as saying. Procedures to identify the bodies were underway but he did not say exactly how many corpses he was talking about.

Even cows weren't spared from the powerful floodwaters rushing south from the hilly backcountry. A dead cow washed up on a beach in the French Riviera town of Saint-Laurent du Var.

In France, firefighters were still searching Monday for at least eight missing people who witnesses described as possibly being carried off by floodwaters. They included two firefighters whose vehicle fell into the water as a road collapsed.

In addition, French rescuers were seeking to locate 12 other people whose families have not heard of them since the storm, which blocked roads and cut off communications.

French authorities also found the body of a shepherd who had disappeared in the mountains. A firefighter also died in the border region of Valle d’Aosta.

The flooding has put additional stress on regions coping with the coronavirus pandemic. The governors of both Liguria and Piedmont have asked the Italian government for emergency aid.


Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy contributed to the story.