The Sanctuary at Lourdes was closed today and hundreds of pilgrims have been evacuated after non-stop rain caused the River Gave to burst its banks in what has been described as the worst flooding in 25 years.
This afternoon the water was around one metre deep in front of the Grotto. Only the higher basilica is still accessible. Nearby roads are under up to 80cms of water. Two campsites have been evacuated and hotels near the Domaine have been closed with guests moved to accommodation on higher ground in town.
Fr Thierry Castillo, custodian of the sanctuaries said: "There are torrents of mud. The space in front of the grotto is entirely covered with water, the altar is under water."
He said the hydroelectric plant which provides power to the sanctuaries, has been badly damaged by floating tree trunks.
The Gave de Pau was three metres above its usual level this morning (Saturday) and still rising, as weather forecasters predicted that the rain that has been falling non-stop since Thursday would continue until Sunday. A heavy downpour is forecast for Saturday evening and night.
The Domain is not expected to reopen before Tuesday or Wednesday.
To visit the official Lourdes website see: http://www.lourdes-france.org/index.php?goto_centre=ru&contexte=en&id=405