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Floods swamp Lourdes, hundreds of pilgrims rescued

Floods caused by days of non-stop rain in south-west France have forced the closing of most of the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes and the evacuation of more than 450 pilgrims, local authorities said.

Buses ferried guests from the hotels in the lower part of the town to a conference centre and a sports complex as officials said the sites visited by millions annually would stay closed for several days.

Two campsites were also evacuated and several roads closed around Lourdes, where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous in a grotto in 1858, as the river Gave de Pau burst its banks.

The water was around 1m deep in front of the grotto and 0.8m in the avenue du Paradis, where most of the hotels for pilgrims are located, after what officials said was the worst flooding in 25 years.

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