Thousands flee France floods

More than 15,000 people were forced to evacuate in southeastern France.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 4, 2003

More than 15,000 people were forced to evacuate in southeastern France on Wednesday after flooding along the Rhone River between Lyon and Marseille caused severe damage.

Heavy rain and high winds blanketed the region, killing five people. Four nuclear power reactors were shut down when floating debris blocked the water intake used to cool the reactors.

In a press conference, President Jacques Chirac announced the government would make $14.5 million available in emergency funds for the region. Nearly 10,000 rescue workers have been mobilized for what Chirac and others were calling the worst floods in decades.

Rescue workers used boats to paddle between houses and rescue people stranded on rooftops and in vehicles.

Montpelier, west of Marseille, was particularly hard hit.

The Mediterranean coast clocked winds of 87 mph.

In other historical international disaster news, a freak storm dumped four inches of rain in two hours on Australia's second largest city of Melbourne. More than 1,000 people called to be rescued when flash floods covered major roadways.

Forecasters called it the city's worst storm in a century. Hail the size of golf balls was reported in some of Melbourne's suburban communities.

Officials estimated that hundreds of homes and businesses sustained flood or wind damage.

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