After days of nonstop rains caused flash floods in the French pilgrimage town of Lourdes, the receding waters are revealing serious damage to the precious sanctuaries.
The AFP is reporting that some 450 pilgrims were evacuated from Lourdes on Saturday when the river Gave de Pau overflowed its banks and flooded some areas of the town, including the shrine.
Now that the waters have begun to recede, a massive clean-up is underway.
The shrine is now reopening but some parts remain flooded, such as Massabielle cave, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. High water still fills the area with debris such as wood, candles and branches seen floating on the surface.
Surrounding streets which border the Gave de Pau, are said to be carpeted with mud four inches deep.
Thierry Castillo, the custodian of the sanctuaries, told AFP: “There have been floods in the past but this one has caused the most damage in the last 30 years.”
The floods caused yet another financial blow for the shrine which is already suffering a $1.3 million shortfall after last year’s decline in donations due to the eurozone debt crisis.
“We have serious damages which will run into hundreds of thousands of euros,” Castillo said, and expressed hope for “a mobilization of donors”.
Pope Benedict XVI specifically referred to the flooding during Sunday’s Mass at St. Peter’s when he named seven new saints. “Let us turn to the Virgin Mary with a thought for Lourdes, the victim of flash floods which inundated the grotto where the Madonna had appeared.”
Although pilgrims and local businesses were disappointed at the closure of the shrine, many believe it could have been much worse.
“We have come through something that could have been dramatic,” said Jean-Marie Attard, the head of a regional hoteliers’ association. “All lives were saved and we can view this as a miracle.”
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