PARIS -- Heavy floods in southwest France have forced the closure of the Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes and the evacuation of pilgrims from nearby hotels.
Floodwaters swirled Wednesday in the grotto where nearly 6 million believers from around the world, many gravely ill, come every year seeking miracles and healing. It has been a major pilgrimage site since a French girl's vision of the Virgin Mary there in 1858.
(More: Lourdes, France Forecast)
"The flooding in France is the result of a slow-moving low-pressure system in the upper atmosphere that has tapped a moist atmosphere ahead of the system," said weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce.
Lourdes Mayor Jean-Pierre Artiganave said on BFM television that the site will not reopen until safety can be assured. Rescue services are evacuating hundreds of people from nearby hotels.
Heavy rains around the region inundated town centers and prompted road closures. The interior minister is heading to Lourdes later Wednesday.
A man wades through a flooded road in Lourdes, southwestern France, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)