A man walks past damaged cars in Biot, near Cannes Lionel Cironneau/PA

At least seventeen people have died as the south of France reels from devastating storms

President Francois Hollande has visited the site of the storms today on the French riviera.

Updated 19.35

VIOLENT STORMS AND FLOODING along the French Riviera have killed at least 17 people and another four are still missing in what were described as “apocalyptic” scenes, local officials said Sunday.

President Francois Hollande visited the site of the disaster, which occurred when the Cote d’Azur was lashed by to 180 millimetres (seven inches) of rain in just three hours.

“The toll is not yet final. In these moments, we must be fast, efficient and coordinated,” said Hollande.

Three people died when water engulfed a retirement home at Biot near Antibes, and three drowned when their car was trapped by rising waters in a small tunnel at Vallauris-Golfe-Juan.

In Cannes – home of the glitzy film festival – the torrent carried some cars out to sea, city hall said.

France Floods A devastated campsite at Biot Lionel Cironneau / PA Lionel Cironneau / PA / PA

France FloodsFlooded cars in the river Berre, south of FranceSource: AP/Press Association Images

A woman in her sixties also died on the street in the resort city of Cannes when huge storms hit the region last night, sending water and debris coursing down submerged roads in the famous festival town and in its glamorous neighbour, Nice.

Other fatalities were reported in Antibes and Cannes.

France Floods Lionel Cironneau Lionel Cironneau

France Floods Lionel Cironneau Lionel Cironneau

Rescue teams at Mandelieu-la-Napoule said the water was so murky that they could not see the bodies trapped in underground car parks, where at least seven people died.

"It's apocalyptic," said mayor Henri Leroy. "The parking was half-emptied but there are thousands of vehicles. There could be more bodies."

Fire engines were busy sucking water out of underground parkings and basements.

"I saw water pour in from the veranda. Within five minutes, it was up to my waist," said one retired resident, France Oberlin, still in shock.

"I couldn't open the doors but luckily a neighbour came," she said.

Sat on a plastic chair, surrounded by debris and overturned cars, she looked despairingly at her ground-floor apartment, in which everything has been destroyed.

France Floods Residents clearing their belongings in the town of Golf Juan Lionel Cironneau / PA Lionel Cironneau / PA / PA

Vigilant against looting

Water coursed through Cannes, Nice and Antibes, transforming the streets of three of France's most glamorous cities into debris-strewn rivers.

"Some cars were carried off into the sea," said Cannes mayor Davis Lisnard, describing water levels reaching halfway up car doors and trees left uprooted on the city's main avenue.

Cannes provided emergency shelter for 120 people, Lisnard said.

"We have rescued a lot of people, and we must now be vigilant against looting," he added.

France Floods Residents watch the Nive river flooding, south west France AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Hollande issued a message thanking rescuers and local officials and expressed the "solidarity of the nation" to those who had been affected.

Around 27,000 homes remained without power earlier today, 14,000 of them in Cannes alone.

Communications to the region - one of the wealthiest in France, and a magnet for visitors from around the world - were badly hit.

Around 500 people, many of them British and Danish tourists, were stranded at Nice airport.

About a dozen trains were halted at local stations. The state rail company SNCF provided food and blankets to hundreds of passengers who were stuck onboard.

The A8 motorway near Antibes was flooded when a small river, the Brague, burst its banks.

A Nice-Nantes match in France's top football division Ligue Un was called off in the 46th minute after the pitch became a quagmire.

Nice's mayor's office estimated the city had received 10 percent of its average annual rainfall in the past two days alone.

The areas worst-hit by flooding were also the hardest to access, officials said, raising fears the death toll could rise again, while 35,000 homes were confirmed to be without power.

French rail company SNCF said around a dozen trains had to be halted with hundreds on board for the safety of passengers, while roads around Antibes were also flooded, according to French emergency services.

"Camp sites are under water, and two helicopters are circling to ensure the public's security, as some people are stuck on the roof of their caravans," said a spokeswoman for the fire brigade.

Up to 500 tourists, including several British and Danish nationals, sought shelter overnight at Nice airport.

By dawn, the worst storms had passed over the French mainland and were headed for the Italian coast, Meteo-France said.

The region's worst flood in the past 25 years was in June 2010, when 25 people were killed.

The worst national toll from flooding over this period was in January and February 1990, when 81 people were killed by violent storms in the north and west of the country.

In December 1999, 92 people in France were killed by flooding, fallen trees and other storm damage caused by hurricane-strength winds that struck northwestern Europe.

Originally published 9.30 am

© – AFP, 2015

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