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Flash floods force closure of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes

A tyre floats past the flooded grotto of Lourdes (AP)

Flash flooding caused by heavy rains has forced officials to close the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Authorities evacuated about 200 people, most of them from camping grounds near the shrine, after water levels rose quickly following heavy rain and unseasonal snowfall in the area a day earlier.

The Lourdes grotto, where St Bernadette Soubirous witnessed an apparition of Our Lady in 1858, was under as much as five feet of water, Mathias Terrier, who is in charge of communications at the shrine, told AFP.

The nearby Gave de Pau River was flowing about 11 feet above its normal level, Mr Terrier said.

He said the floods posed a greater threat to the shrine than those of last October that caused damage amounting to more than £1.5m ($1m).

“It’s very serious, the water is still rising. There is nothing we can do. We just have to wait and cross our fingers and hope,” he said.

“We have taken preventative measures to evacuate everyone. At the moment, we are most concerned with trying to rehouse people and once that is done we will look at any damage caused. People are the priority at the moment.”

Shrine officials planned to keep the sanctuary ringing the grotto closed today, but said that Mass would be celebrated at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which is safely out of reach of the flood waters.