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France declares state of natural disaster after severe flooding

French fireman work near an abandoned car stuck in muddy waters near an underpass after flooding caused by torrential rain in Cannes, France, October 4, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

At least nineteen people are feared dead and four people are missing, in one of the worst flooding to hit the French Riviera in years. The French government is set to declare a state of natural disaster this Wednesday to speed up the clean-up process and allow emergency funds to be released to the stricken region.

Antibes, Cannes, Nice, towns that are so often synonymous with glamour and sunshine, are today, waking up to scenes of devastation.

The French riviera was devastated this weekend by torrential rains that left residents trapped inside cars, parking garages and retirement homes.

In one commune, Mandelieu-la Napoule, bodies were found strewn across parking lots, causing the mayor, Henri Leroy, to warn the death toll may still rise.

In Cannes, beloved by jet-setting tourists, two months worth of rain fell in just three hours, roughly 180 mm (seven inches), French TV station BFM reported.

Meanwhile, in the town of Biot, about 40 kilometres from Monte-Carlo, the hunt for those missing is on.

Hundreds of clean-up officers clad in diving suits and carrying chainsaws were seen removing trees and debris strewn around a river on Monday.

As clean up efforts get underway, questions about why a such a disaster was not foreseen is stalking people's minds.

The region had only been placed on "orange alert" status ahead of the storm, an inadequate assessment given the gravity of the torrential downpour.

"Should we have been" on red alert? Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on France Inter radio."We will have to see if we could have anticipated what happened."

Observers point to the fact that weather alerts have become so common, that French people these days take them less seriously.

French President François Hollande, who visited the Côte d'Azur region on Sunday, said the disaster pointed to an environmental lesson to be learnt.

It's a lesson that could cost millions in compensation hand-outs. The state of natural disaster to be announced on Wednesday, will allow emergency funds to be channelled to where they're needed most.

The region's worst flood in the past 25 years was in June 2010, when 25 people were killed, causing one billion euros of damage.