TOULOUSE, France (CNS) — Flash flooding created by heavy rains forced officials to close the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes June 18.

Authorities evacuated about 200 people, most of them from campgrounds near the shrine, after water levels rose quickly following heavy rain and unseasonal snowfall in the area a day earlier.

The Lourdes grotto, where Mary is reported to have appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, was under as much as 5 feet of water, Mathias Terrier, who is in charge of communications at the shrine, told AFP.


The nearby Gave de Pau River was flowing about 11 feet above its normal level, Terrier said.

He said the floods posed a greater threat to the shrine than those of last October that caused damage amounting to more than $1 million.

“It’s very serious, the water is still rising. There is nothing we can do. We just have to wait and cross our fingers and hope,” he said.

“We have taken preventative measures to evacuate everyone. At the moment, we are most concerned with trying to rehouse people and once that is done we will look at any damage caused. People are the priority at the moment,” he added.

Shrine officials planned to keep the sanctuary ringing the grotto closed June 19, but that Mass would be celebrated at the Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, which is safely out of reach of the flood waters.