In late afternoon on Sunday 8 September 2002, torrential rain began falling on the Gard Department as well as parts of neighbouring Vaucluse and Ardèche.
It was the start of a major “Mediterranean episode”
By evening, all the rivers in the area (Gardon, Cèze, Vidourle, Vistre, Ardèche, etc.) had reached stormflow and were already wreaking havoc on life and property between surface runoff and burst banks.
On Monday 9, after a relatively calm period in the early morning, it rained again after lunch. The ground was saturated so the rivers overflowed, this time even more powerfully.
Cumulative rainfall over the two days was off the dial: 684 mm near Anduze and around 400 mm at Collias, while levels were more moderate in the High Cévennes.
The toll was horrendous: 23 dead and more than 800 million euros of damage in the Gard.
More than 90% of towns and villages in the Gard were affected.
The Gardon at the Pont du Gard on 9 September. At low water, none of the bridge’s piers even touch the water.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Méger.
Runoff is at the root of any flood. Either concentrated or spread out, it first engulfs usually dry land before flowing into water courses, causing them to overflow. Here, near Anduze, the results were particularly spectacular, creating short-lived waterfalls cascading down the slopes.
Photo: Yvan Diebold.
Aramon lies 7 km across a wide alluvial plain from the Gardon and was, until the CNR* reconfigured the river, prone to frequent floods by the Rhône. One arm of the river even ran alongside the town.
To protect itself from the flood waters, Aramon built a flood barrier around the south and west sides of the town. It consists of stone near the town centre but becomes an earth bank further out. When the CNR* built their large dykes, they cut Aramon off from the Rhône and its flood waters stopped short of the town, while the authorities ceased maintaining the earth banks.
By the evening of 9 September 2002, the peak flood waters had reached the Lower Gardon and the confluence, squeezed into a narrowed riverbed. The flood water could only partially reach the Rhône, so the rest breached the right bank and flowed right up to the earth dyke. It was broken in 7 places and the water surged through, devastating recently built housing estates. Many of them were bungalows and dozens of homes were flooded in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, 5 people were killed and a large part of Aramon was flooded by the Gardon, perhaps for the first time in its history and definitely since the last few hundred years.
Collias sits just outside the Gorges du Gardon and the village has suffered a lot from floods, especially a small housing estate built on the river’s streambed* which was literally razed to the ground.
The Gard and Ardèche were not the only Departments to experience the flooding.
Rainfall amounting to almost 400 mm fell on the west of Vaucluse triggering the Rieu to flood at Piolenc.