At least 12 dead in southwestern France flooding

Flash floods that tore through several towns in southwest France following an overnight storm killed at least 12 people, authorities said Monday.

Some residents had to be helicoptered from rooftops as the equivalent of several months of rain poured down in a few hours and turned waterways into raging torrents.

Initially, the French Interior Ministry reported 13 deaths from the floods in the Aude region. French officials lowered the number to 10 later, saying some victims had been counted twice. The Interior Ministry and Aude officials put it at 12 after two more bodies were recovered in the towns of Trebes and Carcassonne.

At least six of the deaths happened in Trebes, Mayor Eric Menassi said. Eight people were injured throughout the affected region and one person was missing as of late Monday.

Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

In the town of Villegailhenc, witness Ines Siguet said the waters rose so quickly that people were stranded on the roofs of their homes, which is why a helicopter was used. She posted video of a ripped-up road where a bridge used to be, torn away by a flood torrent that cut the town in half.

"There's nothing left. There's just a hole," the 17-year-old resident told The Associated Press. "It was very violent."

Schools closed, roads cut off

Other roads also were flooded, leaving the town cut off, she said. Her school was shut down amid the destruction. Two people were killed in the town, according to the Aude regional government.

Alain Thirion, the prefect of Aude, said some of the dead appeared to have been swept away by floodwaters. In the town of Conques-sur-Orbiel, the river rose by more than six metres, he said.

Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA-EFE

Floodwaters were in some cases too powerful for emergency services to get through, even on boats, he said.

Television images showed waters coursing through towns and villages, with cars stranded in the floods and piled up on each other like children's toys.

The French government rushed hundreds of rescue workers into the flood zone and helicopters buzzed overhead. Authorities urged people to stay home.

Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images