The underground rivers, or Cadereaux, of Nîmes had been quiet since 1963 but reawakened with astounding ferocity on the morning of 3 October 1988.
An extremely heavy thunderstorm unleashed some 400 mm of rainfall in just a few hours on the Plateau des Garrigues.
Torrents of water ploughed through the city centre which the French population viewed in stunned silence on the evening television news, with cars piled up and turbulent currents sweeping away everything in their path.
Only 9 people died but an unsubstantiated rumour which remains today referred to several dozen victims.
Since then, the city centre and wider urban area has undertaken immense flood prevention projects to reduce the risk in the city.
These have been coupled with awareness raising campaigns and fostering a risk awareness culture towards flooding among the local population (installation of flood level markers, school activities, measures to make private and public buildings less flood-prone, etc.).
The flooding Nîmes was the first major event to be declared a major natural disaster, triggering state compensation for damage suffered by the victims.
The declaration system, nick-named “Cat’Nat’” by the insurers was introduced in 1982 by Haroun Tazieff, who was tasked by the government at the time to address major hazards. It was based on mutual support between insurance holders whether or not they were exposed to natural hazards.
A tangle of cars at the corner of Rue de la Madeleine and Rue de l’Etoile
(photo: Georges Mathon),
in 1988 and now
(photo: Jean-Marc Décombe)