La Cite (old walled city) in Carcassonne.
I (Connie) arrived in Carcassonne on the afternoon of 3 October, Wednesday, and was met by my sister Donna, who had arrived in Carcassonne two days earlier. She had already been in Europe, France and Spain, for a month, exploring and learning about a number of Camino trails that cross France (more about the Camino in a later post).
During my first one and a half weeks in Carcassonne, Donna and I, and then Thuy, Donna and I, learned about the vagaries of Carcassonne weather. I took some French lessons while here, and my French professor, Dominique, told me I would be hearing a lot about weather. She had no idea how true her statement would turn out to be. Apparently the weather in this region is greatly influenced by ones position relative to the Mediterranean sea, and the Pyrenees and Black mountains.
In Carcassonne, layers of clothing are necessary because the weather changes are considerable over the course of a day. It seemed like every day we experienced sun, clouds, rain, heat, chill, fog, and always at least part of the day, wind. “The wind off the Mediterranean,” people would say.
My partners in Carcassonne left me by mid-month. Thuy, an Air Force friend who had flown in from England for a two day visit, left on Saturday the 13th. Donna, my sister, one of the two older women who walk (this blog), left on Sunday the 14th.
Late Sunday night, the sky opened up and it begin pouring. The apartment we rented for a month is in an attic and has no regular windows (and precious little standing upright room). I could hear the rain loudly on the skylights, but initially it seemed a nice rain to sleep by. Then I began to hear a not-so-nice dripping sound near my head. I turned on my lamp and discovered a leak where a large roof beam met the wall. Water was dripping onto my nightstand and down the wall. I wasn’t too alarmed but the amount was significant, so I got up and found two plastic containers to catch the water. The containers seems sufficient to contain the amount of water flowing, so I went back to sleep.Skylight and Leaky Corner
Maybe a half hour later, now Monday morning near 1AM, I awakened to knocking at my door. On my doorstep were two, older-middle-aged British people – a couple who said they were renting an apartment on the floor below mine. They had had a more serious leak onto their bed that had also taken out their bed lamp. They were concerned the leak was coming from my apartment ; they worried I had fallen asleep or passed out in a bathtub and it was overflowing. I showed them my leak, and my shower (no tub), and we talked about letting the owner know later in the morning.
All told, my leak yielded just 3 cups or so of water and a wet carpet. The owner said that spot has leaked a little bit during earlier rains and he had been unable to find the source of the leak. No big deal.
Until 1:30 in the afternoon, I had no idea how big a problem the rains had caused. I showed up at the building where I was taking French lessons and rang the doorbell to be let up. I got no response. So, I started looking around and noticed there were crowds of people here and there, several police and emergency response vehicles, and just a block away, a bridge across the River Aude was cordoned off. I went exploring and found a raging river completely out of it’s banks, and the old walled city completely cut off due to closed bridges.
Road and path by the Aude River in Carcassonne
In an area known for periodic flooding in the fall, this was the worst flood since 1891. 13 people were killed, hundreds of cars and houses destroyed. Roads were closed and rail services were suspended. Reports indicated the area received approximately 9 1/2 inches of rain in six hours – equivalent to the normal amount of rainfall for this area in 3 to 4 months.
I found out the next day that my French professor, Dominique, lives in the small village of Villegailhenc, which was the worst hit of the nine municipalities that were principally affected. In Villegailhenc, the Aude River runs through the middle of town and the bridge over the river was washed away, splitting the town in two. Dominique could not initially get to her 91 year old mother who lived on the other side of the bridge. Dominique first learned of the flood at 1 AM when she attempted to go downstairs to her ground floor to use the bathroom. She stepped into a foot of water. In the next hour, the water rose to 5 or 6 feet high, destroying her garage with two cars, her living room, kitchen, and bathroom.
When I saw Dominique Tuesday afternoon, she was able to teach but was clearly shook up. She said she had been unable to eat or sleep and she only had one pair of red leather high-heeled boots (she and her husband kept their shoes on the ground level by the door).
Connie & Dominique
On Thursday the 18th, my cousin/friend, Christine, arrived from Germany to do some vacationing with me. She and I walked to the walled city and saw some damage there. Some shops were closed, but mostly it was business as usual. However, when we walked along the banks of the Aude River, we watched people there mucking out their houses and piling up ruined furniture for pick up.
Ancient wall in La Cite that gave way during the downpour. There was a restaurant above that will need some repair.
The flood continued to impact the community and to impact us. First we tried to get to the Mediterranean Sea. After many delays in stations and on the train due to closed roads and railways, we spend a little time in Narbonne and then returned to Carcassonne having seen no Sea.
Then we tried to find a car to rent so we could explore the path of “Le Chemin du piemont pyreneen” (a route of the Camino de Santiago that goes from Carcassonne, West to Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port). We checked every car rental company: “Sorry, none are available. They are all rented out by people who lost their cars in the flood.” Finally we found an itty-bitty Fiat 500 that was available for just 2 days. We took it, and that’s another story.
After returning from the west, we planned a trip south to Quillan and Limoux. We were actually able to make that trip, however we had to leave very early and come home very late due to limited transportation options. We went by bus – the trains were not running.
So that’s my story of the whopper flood of 2018 in Southern France. The flood was devastating for this area, a tragedy for many families and communities, and a minor inconvenience for me. I am sad for the people of this area and thankful for my own good fortune.