Monday, June 24, 2013

Lourdes shrines, devastated by floods, likely closed for weeks

8:01PM BST 20 Jun 2013

Locals said the shrine's famous grotto now looks like a vision of "the apocalypse" and is closed to the public, still submerged under two feet of mud.

Much of the site, which draws six million visitors each year, will be in no fit state to open in the coming weeks when high season begins, local officials have warned.

Chapels and the bathing pools filled with water that pilgrims believe has curative powers lie in ruins after being overrun by fierce floodwaters that thundered through the town. Only the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception has escaped unscathed.

Three people have died in the southwestern region in the floods and the government has declared parts of the region a "disaster zone".

On a visit to Lourdes, Francois Hollande, the French president, promised "everything will be done so that the sanctuaries will be accessible again as soon as possible."

Mathias Terrier, the sanctuary's communications director, told The Local website: "It's catastrophic. We cannot see how we could reopen in acceptable conditions in the weeks to come."

"We cannot lie about the situation. Everything is broken, everything is destroyed. We do not know what to do."

The town has only just fully recovered from similar floods, which caused more than two million euros (£1.7 million) worth of damage.

But the combination of torrential rain and melted snow forced the Gave de Pau river to burst its banks, leading to far more destruction.

Describing the floods as an "economic disaster", Jean-Pierre Artiganav, the mayor of Lourdes, said the damage ran into "tens of millions of euros" and the clean-up operation could take months.
A visit by the Pope would "certainly" help matters, he said. "We all hope he will come," added BenoƮt Casterot, head of the Lourdes hotel association.

The mayor said: "Lourdes is the second biggest hotel site in France, it's six million visitors per year, in France's tourist map it's something important."

He added: "Lourdes is lucky as the world is generous with Lourdes. When Lourdes is in distress – we saw this in October – people respond, they don't let Lourdes down".

A fresh appeal for donations has been launched. "We are really embarrassed, seven months later, to launch a new appeal for donations, but it's an absolute necessity as we don't have the means to deal with such an unforeseen event," said Mr Castillo.

Of the town's 220 hotels, around 60 were reportedly damaged to different degrees.

"I think we can forget about the 2013 season," said Mr Casterot.

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