Lourdes shrines reopen after floods

Shrines in the French mountain town of Lourdes began to reopen on Monday after flash floods that caused hundreds of thousands of euros in damage.

Hundreds of pilgrims who had come to visit the famous grotto where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a peasant girl in 1858 had to be evacuated after heavy flooding hit the area on Saturday, Agence France Presse reported.

Work to clear 20 centimetres of mud on the esplanade in front of the grotto continued on Monday. Pilgrims were told that they would have to wait until Tuesday for the grotto to reopen.

The AFP report, however, said visitors from Canada, Japan and the Philippines were able to take part in processions and visit the newly reopened Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the Rosary Basilica.

Pope Benedict XVI evoked the flooding at a special Vatican mass on Sunday, when he named seven new saints, saying: “Let us turn to the Virgin Mary with a thought for Lourdes, the victim of flash floods which inundated the grotto where the Madonna had appeared.”

Thierry Castillo, the custodian of the sanctuaries, said: “There have been floods in the past but this one has caused the most damage in the last 30 years.”

“We have serious damages, which will run into hundreds of thousands of euros,” Castillo said.

Several areas in the town were inundated on Saturday as the river Gave de Pau burst its banks.

Buses ferried guests from all the hotels in the lower town to a conference centre and a sports complex. Two campsites were evacuated and several roads closed .

The body supervising the sanctuaries said a hydro-electricity unit providing power to the shrines had been badly damaged, as well as two pedestrian walkways at the side of the river.

Many visitors voiced disappointment. “I hope I will be able to pray at the grotto before I leave,” said Laura Generini, a Florentine. Others were undaunted and said they would return in spring.


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