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Toulouse, France (AFP) June 18, 2013
French authorities Tuesday shut the grotto at Lourdes and evacuated about 200 people following flash floods at the Roman Catholic pilgrimage site.
The preventive measure came a day after heavy rain and unseasonal snowfall in the area led to rivers flowing well above their normal levels, even cutting off some roads.
"The Sanctuaries are closed," the local prefecture of the Haute-Garonne area said in a statement. There are 22 places of worship at Lourdes.
Mathias Terrier, who is in charge of communications at the Lourdes shrine, told AFP that the Gave de Pau river was flowing at 3.50 metres (11 feet) above its normal level, adding that there was already 1.40 metres of water in the cave.
"The situation is evolving very fast," he said, adding that a crisis centre had been set up. Officials said lodgers at hotels bordering the Gave de Pau would be relocated if the waters continued to rise.
Local officials said most of the 200 people moved were those camping in the area.
In 2012, the Lourdes shrines were closed after flash floods that caused hundreds of thousands of euros in damage.
Hundreds of pilgrims come to the famous grotto where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a peasant girl in 1858 and whose water many believe has curative powers.
Lourdes attracted millions of visitors every year. The Catholic church recognises 68 miracles linked to it and many disabled or sick people go there to pray for a cure.
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