Floods close Lourdes Catholic pilgrimage site in France

PARIS Wed Jun 19, 2013 9:30am EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - Heavy flooding in southwestern France killed a woman and forced the closure of the Roman Catholic pilgrimage site at Lourdes on Wednesday, less than a year after flash floods caused millions of euros of damage to the shrine.

Video footage showed frothy water a meter (3 feet) deep swirling around the Lourdes grotto, a hillside site where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858 and Catholicism's most-visited miracle shrine.

Authorities had to evacuate several hundred pilgrims from hotels and camping sites after melting snow and summer storms caused the Gave de Pau river to burst its banks late on Tuesday, a Lourdes local official told Reuters.

The 70-year-old woman died on Tuesday evening while trying to get out of her flood-trapped car in the town of Pierrefitte-Nestalas, the regional prosecutor's office said.

Water levels were slowly receding on Wednesday. Interior Minister Manuel Valls was due to visit the area, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, later.

About 6 million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually, many to bathe in the grotto's normally tranquil spring waters and pray for healing at its altar, which had to be restored after it was damaged by flash floods in October last year.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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