Lourdes, France, Oct 20, 2012 / 11:17 am (CNA).- Flooding in southwestern France has forced hundreds of pilgrims to evacuate the Marian apparition site and nearby hotels.
Busloads of pilgrims were taken to a nearby conference hall and a sports hall while about 40 people were evacuated from their homes Oct. 20, Radio France International reported.
The Gave River, which runs through the city where the Blessed Mother appeared several times to the peasant girl St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, burst its banks after days of heavy rain invaded the region.
A spokesperson for the Marian Sanctuary said the grotto itself is under about 3 feet of water and more rain is expected.
Only the basilica, which is built on higher ground than the grotto, is still accessible.
Local officials said that the flooding is the worst the region has seen in 25 years.
More rain was forecast for the evening, while 8,000 homes in the region were without power.
The grotto is home to the site where the Blessed Mother appeared 18 times to St. Bernadette as well as a spring of water that still flows today and is heavily visited by those in search of miraculous healing. The intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes is credited with 68 certified miracles since the apparitions took place.
Six million tourists and pilgrims flocked to Lourdes in 2011.
Relics of Blessed John Paul II are set to arrive in Lourdes Oct. 21 for veneration until Oct. 27 to mark the Year of Faith.