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Floods prompt evacuations in shrine town

PARIS — Pilgrims trek by the millions each year to the Roman Catholic shrine in Lourdes, many looking to drink its spring waters reputed for their healing powers.

This time, visitors were fleeing a different kind of water — floodwaters — in the southwestern French town.

Rescue teams helped hundreds of pilgrims escape waterlogged hotels Saturday after heavy rains led the Gave River to overrun its banks — and even wash up into the town’s famed grotto, where many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

The regional government issued a statement late Saturday saying 427 people had been evacuated from their hotels.

The Red Cross and regional authorities provided food and shelter to the escapees, as authorities warned of forecasts for more rain in the region.

In one televised image, a rescuer waded waist-deep into a hotel lobby with a red boat in tow and teams helped elderly visitors inside for a trip to higher ground.

Others showed a fast-flowing, white-water river rumbling through the town, and the grotto — or cave — was filled with about 1.5 meters of water, under a niche statute of the Virgin Mary.

Visits to the grotto were temporarily suspended. Officials say the town draws about 6 million visitors a year — mainly looking to see the grotto. The shrine has special meaning for the suffering, many of whom believe its spring water can heal and even work miracles.


Royals tie knotin religious ceremony

LUXEMBOURG | Under a canopy of soldiers’ drawn swords as church bells tolled, Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg and Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy emerged smiling Saturday from the tiny duchy’s Notre Dame Cathedral after wrapping up a two-day wedding gala with a religious ceremony.

With a celebratory fireworks show still to come, onlookers and well-wishers lined the superscrubbed streets near the cathedral and roared with joy as the newlyweds looked down from a red velvet-covered palace balcony, and haltingly — but deeply — kissed for the crowd.

The church wedding of Prince Guillaume — the 30-year-old heir to the throne and Luxembourg’s grand duke-to-be — and the Belgian countess drew top-drawer guest list.

It came a day after a civil ceremony at Luxembourg City Hall.

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