Saturday, October 20, 2012

Floods force pilgrims to flee Lourdes

French rescue services have helped hundreds of Catholic pilgrims escape the sanctuary of Lourdes as the region was flooded by days of non-stop rain.

More than 450 visitors to the Catholic shrine were ferried from hotels in the lower town to higher ground.

Officials said the famed sites visited by millions of religious pilgrims each year would remain closed for several days.

"The space in front of the grotto is entirely covered with water, the altar is under water," Thierry Castillo, the custodian of the sanctuaries, told the AFP news agency.

Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto in Lourdes in 1858.

Waters rise

The water was around one meter (three feet) high in front of the grotto 80 centimeters high in the avenue du Paradis, where most of the hotels are located.

Officials have said this is the worst flooding in 25 years. The river Gave de Pau was three meters above its usual level on Saturday and rising. Weather forecasts predicted that the rain would continue until Sunday, following a continuous downpour overnight on Saturday.

Last year, more than six million visitors descended upon shrine. The Catholic church has recognized 68 miracles linked to Lourdes.

Lourdes has special meaning for the suffering, many of whom believe its water can heal and even work miracles. Many disabled or sick people go there to pray for a cure.

The sanctuaries are not expected to reopen before Tuesday or Wednesday.

tm/ccp (AFP, AP)


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