Mon, Mar 23, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Thousands flock to watch rare ‘tide of the century’

AFP, LE MONT SAINT-MICHEL, France

People stand along the waterfront as a wave crashes onto a seawall durng the rising tide in Saint Malo, Brittany, in northwestern France, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

An estimated 30,000 people flocked to Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday to see the “tide of the century” surround the picturesque French landmark, as two people drowned on the country’s west coast.

A record-breaking crowd gathered at the rocky island topped with a Gothic Benedictine abbey to watch the sea surge up the bay on the coast of Normandy, which is exposed to some of Europe’s strongest tides.

However, the festive atmosphere as night fell and a wall of water as high as a four-story building swept up the estuary was tempered by news of the drownings.

While the deaths of a 70-year-old fisherman swept away in the Gironde region of southwestern France, and of another man who was collecting shellfish off the Ile Grande further north, were not directly linked to the so-called “supertide,” 15 people had to be rescued in the Brittany region alone after becoming trapped by afternoon tides.

Driven by the effects of the solar eclipse on Friday, the spring tide on Saturday night at Mont Saint-Michel peaked at a record high of more than 14m, or a coefficient of 119 out of a possible maximum of 120. Spectators packed a nearly 1km-long footbridge that links the UNESCO World Heritage Site with the mainland, while others watched from the crowded ramparts of the granite islet, which is visited by 3 million people a year.

Officials at the French Navy Oceanic and Hydrological Service had said that the high tide would pose a danger to people venturing out too far.

However, even before dawn, tourists from France and the world over — Japanese, Germans and Belgians in particular — were taking their places to watch the spectacle.

About 10,000 people had already turned up at Mont Saint-Michel on Friday evening — where, as the saying goes, the sea rises “at the speed of a galloping horse” — only for the tide not to reach predicted levels.

Although dubbed the “tide of the century,” the “supertide” phenomenon occurs once every 18 years.

In the nearby Breton coastal town of Saint Malo, to the west of Mont Saint-Michel, about 20,000 people gathered to watch massive waves crash onto the shore.

Among them, Italian couple Francesca and Gianni had traveled 1,400km to witness the special event.

The spectacular phenomenon is also happening in other parts of the globe, with Canada’s Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic coast expected to see a tidal surge of 16m.

The next “tide of the century” is expected on March 3, 2033.

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