Two Germans arrested for running illegal campsite as floods hit southern France

Two Germans have been arrested on suspicion of running an illegal campsite in southern France after it was hit by flash floods, leaving one man missing.

Two senior officials of a German youth organisation that ran summer camps for children and young people were being questioned by police on Friday after it was alleged that the campsite had no official approval. The Planjole site in Saint-Julien-de-Peyrolas, about 30 miles north-west of Avignon, is located in an area prone to flooding, local officials said.

The pair remained in custody on Friday, facing possible charges of "causing injury and endangering lives, working illegally and running a campsite without permission,” said Eric Maurel, the Nimes public prosecutor. 

About 1,600 people, mostly campers, were rescued by helicopter on Thursday night as the authorities ordered the evacuation of several sites in the Gard, Ardèche and Drôme areas.

Some 10 people were treated in hospitals for minor injuries or hypothermia. Empty caravans and cars were swept away by the floodwaters. Some were smashed into trees.

The Ardèche river burst its banks in several places after torrential rain fell on hillsides north-west of the Riviera. BFM TV reported that “two months of rain fell in just two hours.”

Some holidaymakers returned to their campsites on Friday after the storms died down as the search continued for the missing man, described as a 67-year-old German who was helping to supervise children at Planjole. His battered van was found empty after the waters receded.  

Nicolas Destriez, a police spokesman, said: “Both air and land searches are under way. We’ve got a lot of officers out there.”

It was unsure if the man was in his caravan when the flood hit the campsite.

Kathryn Alford, 44, a holidaymaker from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, described the scene in the village of Saint Martin d’Ardèche near the Hutopia Camping Le Moulin, where she was staying with her husband and two children.

“[We] were met by the sight of water pouring down streets from hills into a completely changed raging river.”

Rachel Buchanan, from Oxford, who was staying at another campsite in the Ardèche region, told the BBC: "Driving in our camper van was very frightening as the road by the river was completely under water and waterfalls had appeared from nowhere, crashing down the gorge.”