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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 12:51 GMT
Gridlock follows floods in France
Man brings food to his horses in Fourques, outside Arles
The town of Arles remains partly submerged
Floodwaters are beginning to subside in south-eastern France, leaving behind mess, mud and gridlock.

High winds and pounding rain have eased, but roads and railways remain submerged, causing traffic chaos in many towns.

Thousands of people also remain displaced from their homes, with outlying towns among the worst hit.

Police were forced to evacuate 190 high-risk prisoners from the town of Arles on Friday after a dyke gave way.

Five people died in the floods, which began on Monday night with heavy rains that swelled the Rhone river.

Prison evacuation

The Rhone river has now begun to subside, say authorities, but many homes remain submerged.

Thousands of people remain without clean water or electricity.

The town of Arles, about 60 kilometres north-west of Marseille, was back under water after a dyke protecting it from the Rhone gave way.

Buildings there are under more than a metre of water and authorities said up to 800 people were evacuated from northern neighbourhoods overnight on Thursday.

On Friday, nearly 150 police officers - including members of an elite SWAT team - began evacuating 190 prisoners on the ground floor of the jail in Arles.

Reports said those moved included Jean-Marc Rouillan, the former head of the French militant group, Action Directe, which waged a violent campaign to overthrow the French state in the 1970s and 1980s.

"It's the first time extreme weather conditions have forced the evacuation of a prison of this kind," Charles Margnier, of the UFAP prison union, told Reuters news agency.

Four hundred German technicians have been sent to help dredge the town, says AP news agency.

Mayors 'well-prepared'

In Avignon, our correspondent describes scenes of chaos as waters begin to drop but roads and railways remain out of use.

I would first like to think of the victims, of those who have been lost, of those who have been evacuated, to tell them that they can count on the nation's solidarity
Jacques Chirac
French President

The roads which are open are gridlocked.

The director of the Avignon crisis centre says 3,000 people remain displaced.

But he said he was pleased with the response to the floods, saying local mayors had been well prepared and executed rescue operations swiftly.

Towns north of Toulouse also remain flooded.

The people who were able to return to their homes began the grim task of assessing the flood damage, sifting through ruined belongings.

President Jacques Chirac has announced 12 million euros ($14.5 million) of immediate aid to the region.


SEE ALSO:
Marseille declared disaster area
03 Dec 03  |  Europe
France battles with flu epidemic
01 Dec 03  |  Europe
Killer storms lash France
16 Jul 03  |  Europe
In pictures: French floods
04 Dec 03  |  Photo Gallery


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