Storm and Flooding the night of 14th – 15th October 2018
It’s a month ago today that the weather forecast suggested we might be getting thunderstorms and heavy rain in Aude, but no one was aware of the severity of what was to happen between 11pm and 5 the next morning here in Mas Cabardes.
The lightning storm was spectacular, soon helped by the electricity going off as did phones and internet and 3 months’ worth of rain fell in the shortest possible time, unusually without our normal accompanying wind. By morning the weather warnings were ‘red’, but we already knew just how bad it was going to be.
About 3.00am I woke to hear an irregular but very frequent set of loud thumps and bangs. Thinking a shutter had broken loose I toured the house – no problems but only when I shone a powerful torch out over our wall at the river that flows round the curve and under the bridge next to the house could I see how high and fast it was. By 10.00am it had peaked in Mas, the highest we had ever seen covering a third of the car park.
The village was cut off. There were multiple land slips just outside the village, trees had fallen or been uprooted by the river, huge numbers of pebbles stones and even a few boulders had been forced downriver hitting the rock sides and walls in passing. That was the noise I’d heard. There were also multiple new ‘torrents’ and these had caused the worst damage in the village pouring through the backs of some houses built as they are against the rock faces.
Compared with further downstream however we were very fortunate. The loss of thirteen lives and the inestimable damage to roads, riversides and riverside properties, vineyards and jardins exterieur is well documented in the national and international press. However, seeing photographs of familiar places like the canal front at Trebes submerged and its main street under several feet of water brought this home but not as much as driving towards Carcassonne and seeing the river lined with fallen trees, the ground floors of houses ripped off in Les Ilhes and Lastours and torrents everywhere still rushing down the cliffsides.
These sights remain a month later. In the meantime, though electricity was restored in a day, internet in a week although intermittent but still no phones. From the very first morning the local commune staff did an amazing job, clearing the landslips and trees so that we could at least get out of the village by the end of the day and down to Lastours and then Conques. No one could get to work in Carcassonne for the first couple of days and here in Mas there were major domestic clearances to be done. Short term repairs to roads were done with incredible speed and efficiency, the wrecked road at Conques – about 2 – 300 metres perfectly repaired in just over a week. The deviation to Carcassonne via Villemoustaussou was daily improved but sadly let us see some of the most heart-breaking devastation caused by the flooding. Finally, yesterday the road to Carcassonne was reopened. About 300 metres of road and a 10 -15 metre bridge have been completely rebuilt. The previously gentle stream that ran underneath has been canalised with big embankments either side. More major works closer to the Orbiel Aude confluence and through Villegailhenc and Villemoustaussou will continue for some time and who knows when our local legacy of a small mountain of land slip will be moved from the boulodrome, but its rightly a very low priority.
For us in Mas we are told this was the worst flooding since 1891. We do however have all the photographs of the devastation of the flooding in 1930, where many houses were wrecked and others including the former house on our site were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. The river was diverted and the houses rebuilt. New bridges were built and further flood walls and defences created. Yet it does not appear that Mas has sustained major structural damage from these floods.
Therefore, we can say a big thank you to those who nearly 90 years ago created a set of flood defences able to protect the village from even worse storms than that of 1930.
© Celia Cohen 2018